Impunity and Human Rights in International Law and Practice

Synopsis

As dictatorships topple around the world and transitional regimes emerge from the political rubble, the new governments inherit a legacy of widespread repression against the civilian population. This repression ranges from torture, forced disappearances, and imprisonment to the killings of both real and perceived political opponents. Nonetheless, the official status of the perpetrators shields them from sanction, creating a culture of impunity in which the most inhumane acts can be carried out without fear of repercussions. The new governments wrestle with whether or not to investigate prior wrongdoings by state officials. They must determine who, if any, of those responsible for the worst crimes should be brought to justice, even if this means annulling a previous amnesty law or risking a violent backlash by military or security forces. Finally, they have to decide how to compensate the victims of this repression, if at all. Beginning with a general consideration of theories of punishment and redress for victims, Impunity and Human Rights in International Law and Practice explores how international law provides guidance on these issues of investigation, prosecution, and compensation. It reviews some of the more well-known historical examples of societies grappling with impunity, including those arising from the Second World War and from the fall of the Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese dictatorships in the 1970s. Country studies from around the world look at how the problem of impunity has been dealt with in practice in the last two decades. The work then distills these experiences into a general discussion of what has and hasn't worked. It concludes by considering the role of international law and institutions in the future, especially given renewed interest in international mechanisms to punish wrong-doers. As individuals, governments, and international organizations come to grips with histories of repression and impunity in countries around the world, the need to define legal procedures and criteria for dealing with past abuses of human rights takes on a special importance. Impunity and Human Rights in International Law and Practice aims to share their experiences in the hope that lawyers, scholars, and activists in those countries where dealing with the past is only now becoming an imperative may learn from those who have recently confronted similar challenges. This work will be essential reading for lawyers, political and social scientists, historians and journalists, as well as human rights experts concerned with this important issue.

Additional information

Contributors:
Includes content by:
  • Naomi Roht-arriaza
  • Kathleen E. Smith
  • Susanne Walther
  • Edwin Rekosh
  • Jaime Malamud-goti
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1995