Torturers and others who violate human rights should be brought to account – at the same time, we should not forget the victims. What they have gone through tends in many cases to cause distressing trauma, disruption of everyday life and destruction of the future. Justice requires that redress is achieved for the victims.
The right to a remedy and reparation is indeed a basic human right. It is enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments and tribunals, including Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Victims of serious human rights abuses and humanitarian law have a right to redress for the suffering and harm caused to them.
Reparation is the last step in the achievement of full human rights protection. Firstly, violations of human rights should be prevented. Secondly, if a violation does take place, it must be investigated by the State authorities (promptly, thoroughly and impartially). Thirdly, victims should have access to justice. And finally, victims have the right to receive adequate reparation.
The fact that reparation is the last step in the achievement of human rights full protection might be one reason why so little focus has been put on this issue so far.
In 1993, Professor Theo van Boven, in a study concerning the right to restitution, compensation and rehabilitation for victims of gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, concluded that the question of reparation had received little attention and should be addressed more consistently and thoroughly both on a national and international level.
Still today, the question of reparation for victims fails to receive the attention it deserves. Not even in the cases of the many individuals who have been wrongfully detained and tortured during the “war on terror” have there been strong opinions about the need for just compensation Governments have ducked the issue and left to the former prisoners themselves to fight for their rights in complicated court procedures.
What does reparation entail? Financial compensation is the most widespread form of reparation. Some damage can be easily estimated in monetary terms, for example loss of earnings, costs of assistance, while other forms cannot. Here I am thinking of physical, mental or moral damages.
However, financial compensation is not the only remedy which victims seek. Other forms of reparation include the following:
o Restitution – restitution of the situation before the violation took place. This could mean the release of detainees, restitution of property confiscated, restoration of employment;
o Rehabilitation – legal and social services, as well as mental and physical care;
o Satisfaction – which could include verification of the facts, public disclosure of the truth and a public apology, and commemoration of the victim;
o Revelation of the truth – this is a form of catharsis for the society in question, which helps to prevent the past from recurring.
o Guarantees of non-repetition – amending laws or institutions to improve the rule of law.
Indeed, these various types of reparation were recently highlighted in the United Nations’ “Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law” adopted by the General Assembly on 21 March 2006.
By taking a victim-oriented approach, we affirm our human solidarity with victims of gross violations of human rights. We seek to compensate them for risks which the State could not prevent from turning into damage and harm.
Of course, reparation can never fully undo the damage that has been done. Gross violations of human rights are irreparable. But this must not impede us from fighting to achieve just redress for victims. The UN Basic Principles are a good starting point for implementing the various aspects of reparation, a key element to full human rights protection.
- UN Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (UN website, .pdf format)
Also available at the Commissioner's website at www.commissioner.coe.int"