Regional meeting on transitional justice
Video message by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
22-23 June 2023
Thank you for the opportunity to address you on such an important issue.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay have all been deeply scarred by a history of military dictatorships and the resulting mass-scale human rights violations.
Nunca más (never again), we said.
Reckoning with a past of massive abuse and atrocity takes profound strength.
It also requires long-term commitment, and societies that are determined to walk a difficult path.
I pay enormous tribute to victims, survivors, their families and everybody who has worked to support them.
Rebuilding trust and accountability in this region has been guided by transitional justice processes – based on the four pillars of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.
Countries have made significant strides. They have rebuilt democratic institutions. They have made strong contributions to advance on the fight against enforced disappearances, including the use of forensic work. Notably, victim and family organisations in Argentina and Chile played an essential role in the creation of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
But painful challenges linger, including a lack of answers on the fate and whereabouts of disappeared detainees or on the scores of abducted children.
We owe it to victims and survivors to keep advancing along these four pillars. We also owe it to entire societies, who all benefit from continuing and decisive reform steps.
First, truth. Official narratives must more clearly communicate the massive and systematic human rights violations that occurred during the dictatorship eras. Many crucial files remain sealed. Access to them must be granted immediately.
Second, justice. Amnesty laws are still in place. We still see extreme delays in investigations or criminal proceedings. And at the national level, progress still needs to be made in the definition of crimes against humanity. Impunity is the biggest obstacle we face on the path to justice and prosperity.
Third, reparation. Rules and policies of the State must be adjusted to provide for comprehensive, adequate redress to all victims, without discrimination. Some victims have been waiting for decades for reparations. This is not only an affront to them; it undermines trust in the democratic institutions that were rebuilt to protect them.
And fourth, guarantees of non-repetition. I want to underscore the importance of strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions. Without freedom of the press, participation, an independent judiciary, civilian control of law enforcement institutions and a determined fight against corruption, we risk allowing past injustice to take root once again.
This year marks 50 years since the coups d’état in Uruguay and Chile, and 40 years since Argentina’s return to democracy.
At the same time, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an agreement which enshrined peaceful co-existence, justice and dignity for all.
In the aftermath of tragedy, the Universal Declaration provided hope. It provided concrete measures to guide countries out of catastrophe, and towards stability, prosperity and peace.
Reviving the spirit and impulse that led to the Universal Declaration - and applying it to the challenges we face now - is the task before us today.
I applaud this region’s determined work in the search for truth, reparation and justice, particularly the crucial efforts made by civil society, victims, and their families. These efforts have served as a model for other countries across the world.
Memories of the past – even deeply painful ones – can be the foundation upon which we rebuild societies. By sharing and validating experiences, by establishing truth, by fostering solidarity and by reconstructing the social fabric, we can continue to pave the way towards healing and closure.
Nunca más. My Office stands by you to support you on this journey.