IACHR: States Should Consider the Impact of the Passing of Time as an Obstacle to Access to Justice and Truth for Victims and Their Families

March 24, 2023

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is commemorating the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims by highlighting the need to acknowledge the aging of victims and their families as they strive to build memory, learn the truth, and achieve justice.

Since the 1960s, the IACHR has documented and reported severe human rights violations that have occurred in the Americas during dictatorships, breaks in democratic rule, and armed conflicts. Since then, the IACHR has successfully promoted and supported responses to such violations through memory initiatives, the creation of truth commissions, legal proceedings against perpetrators, the creation of reparation programs, and other transitional justice mechanisms.

Many of these processes have been extremely protracted, such that long periods have elapsed since the violations in question were committed. This is reflected in the fact that victims and their families are getting older and dying before the truth is known or justice is achieved, despite having devoted years and sometimes decades as well as resources to the fight for full reparation. The IACHR has noted that this impacts different aspects of their life projects and their immediate family. On the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, the IACHR urged States to prioritize policies to clarify events and ascertain the truth in order to prevent the passing of time from promoting impunity and becoming an obstacle to victims receiving comprehensive reparation.

Furthermore, processes of memory, truth, and justice must be developed in a way that takes the aging of victims and their families into account as part of the time horizon when implementing these processes. The invisibilization of human aging in policies for memory, truth, and justice is a form of age discrimination (or ageism) that must be addressed.

One of the primary objectives of memory, truth, and justice processes is for the victims of human rights violations and their families to access reparation and have their rights vindicated during their lifetimes to mitigate the pain and suffering they have endured. The reasons for clarifying human rights violations reach beyond historical lessons or merely symbolic ends: they also restore the right to personal integrity of the victims of gross human rights violations and their families, which is an obligation under international human rights law. It is important to ensure that age does not end up aggravating victimhood: on the contrary, there needs to be public recognition of victims' life paths and the positive contribution their struggle for human rights makes to society.

When justice and truth processes are delayed or prove endless, it compounds the pernicious effects of a human rights violation. Consequently, the IACHR encourages States to establish channels for victims of human rights violations and their families to participate in memory, truth, and justice processes in order to facilitate access to intergenerational spaces for discussion that include older people and contemplate their needs for justice and reparation. Likewise, truth and justice processes must be sensitive to the cognitive diversity of the individuals that participate in them, especially older people who may require accommodations or adjustments to allow them to take part effectively. On this point, the IACHR calls on States to ratify and implement the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons, an instrument that recognizes, protects, promotes, and guarantees the rights of older people.

Finally, the IACHR calls on States to ensure that its systems of reparation for people who have been victims of serious human rights violations systematize and circulate information on the different effects of such violations, particularly on physical and mental health. Knowing the impacts of human rights violations on the lives and aging of victims will enable States to propose evidence-based reparation plans without ageist bias.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 046/23

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