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Few perpetrators of mass violations face justice, UN Expert warns

Justice for mass atrocities

12 September 2014

GENEVA (12 September 2014) – UN Special Rapporteur on transitional justice Pablo de Greiff* Friday warned that “despite clear international obligations, only a fraction of perpetrators of massive violations are ever investigated and prosecuted”. He stressed that it is crucial for States to adopt effective prosecutorial strategies to bring to justice the perpetrators of such atrocities and to prevent a recurrence of violence.

In a report presented to the Human Rights Council, the expert asserted that by strategically sequencing criminal prosecutions, States can maximize accountability in the aftermath of conflicts or during the transition away from authoritarian regimes.

“The aim of such strategies should be to dismantle the structures that enabled the atrocities in the first place,” de Greiff said. “Strategic prosecutions can contribute to the prevention of new violations.”

“Many countries in transition have been, and remain, greatly tempted to adopt amnesties, including blanket amnesties for even the worst violations. However, amnesties risk entrenching a culture of impunity and contribute to creating vicious cycles of violence,” he added.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the importance of victims’ participation in the design of prosecution strategies and in their implementation. “Participation empowers victims and catalyses demands for justice,” he said.

De Greiff emphasized that criminal prosecutions must not be one-sided or amount to victors’ justice as this would delegitimize transitional justice efforts. He added that the independence of prosecutors is a key safeguard in preventing criminal justice from becoming an instrument of the powerful.

“States must not take measures amounting to reprisals against prosecutors for their impartial efforts to bring perpetrators of mass violations to justice,” he stressed.

De Greiff also expressed concern about recent regression in the application of universal jurisdiction.

“I call on States with universal jurisdiction not to backtrack on their accomplishments and on others to adopt relevant legislation expeditiously,” he said.


*Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. de Greiff has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues, including on the four measures under this mandate (truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence). Learn more, log on to:

For the full report, see:

For United Nations Special Procedures experts: Julia Raue (+41 22 917 9118 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])