The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) is launching a global awareness campaign for the International Day for the Right to the Truth, March 24, to affirm the right of victims to know the truth about human rights violations.
Under the slogan, "Truth is the foundation of justice," ICTJ's campaign will highlight the important role that truth commissions can play in societies dealing with a legacy of violence and repression.
"The Day for the Right to the Truth reminds us of victims' inviolable right to know what happened to their loved ones and to have their suffering acknowledged," says ICTJ President David Tolbert. "Their courageous and tireless struggle to uncover the past teaches us that truth is the foundation of a just society, helping to create conditions for peace and a hopeful future."
At the heart of ICTJ's campaign is the release of a major new publication, Truth Seeking: Elements of Creating an Effective Truth Commission, which describes the life and work of a truth commission, from beginning to end.
To date, more than 40 official truth commissions have been created across the world, providing societies with an account of past abuses and a platform for victims to be officially heard, often after years of government denial. Truth commissions are widely accepted as an effective mechanism for establishing the truth and helping states to move forward after large-scale conflict or dictatorship.
"Victims of unspeakable atrocities, such as genocide, systematic torture, enforced disappearances, or state repression, are often systematically denied their right to know the truth about what happened, to themselves, their loved ones, and the country," says Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. "Establishing the truth affirms that victims are rights-bearing members of society."
The step-by-step process of official truth seeking is opened up in an accompanying online multimedia presentation. Using photo galleries and videos, it will explore the many important stages of a truth commission's work, like researching local customs and collecting testimonies from survivors and witnesses.
Together, the publication and multimedia presentation can help audiences to imagine future commissions in states now emerging from decades of violence and autocratic rule. They also look back at lessons learned from historic commissions, like South Africa's, which examined large-scale abuses during the Apartheid era. Currently, truth commissions are operating in Brazil, Canada, Kenya, and Côte d'Ivoire. Legislation to establish a truth commission is being debated in countries such as Tunisia, Nepal, and Burundi.
The International Day for the Right to the Truth - March 24 - was established in 2010 by the United Nations as a day for honoring the memory of victims, and promoting the right to truth and justice. It also pays tribute to those who have devoted their lives to the struggle for human rights.
The day recognizes the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, in San Salvador, after denouncing violations against El Salvador's many landless poor. In 1992, El Salvador created a truth commission to investigate crimes committed during its decade-long civil war, including Romero's assassination.
"Truth commissions are not easy institutions to create, and their effectiveness depends on a myriad of delicate balances," says Eduardo González, director of ICTJ's Truth and Memory program and co-author of the publication. "But under the right conditions, it's an important process for societies to undertake. Uncovering the truth is often the first step in reforming and transforming a society."
The publication, Truth Seeking: Elements of Creating an Effective Truth Commission, is the result of a partnership between ICTJ, the Amnesty Commission of the Ministry of Justice of Brazil, the United Nations Development Program, and the Brazilian Cooperation Agency of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. It is available on ICTJ's website in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. ICTJ's multimedia presentation will be available in Arabic, English, and Spanish.