Dr. William Soto | Victims Rights' to the truth, justice and repair

Dr. William Soto | Victims Rights' to the truth, justice and repair

The concept of “victim” was created by the Organization of the United Nations in Resolution 40/34 of 1985:

“Victims” means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.

The condition of a harmed victim grants a leading role in the criminal proceedings and therefore, in any process of negotiation to achieve peace. The case of Colombia is no exception; and in fact the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace celebrates that there is active participation of the victims of conflict at the negotiation table. The contributions of the victims to the solution of the armed conflict that has plagued the Colombian nation for so many years is of vital importance, to reach a fair and equitable solution.

In the path of building peace, efforts are needed to recognize the victims of the armed conflict. For this, both the Office of the Attorney General and legal authorities of the nation, must advance all possible efforts to identify the victims, opening up spaces for democratic participation where victims are heard. In any process of peace, which is above all a process of reconciliation, it is not enough to recognize the victims; it is necessary to guarantee their rights to truth, justice and repair, as well as ensuring that the atrocities of which they were victims, will not be repeated. In Europe, the State of Germany is an example to the world, of the application of justice that truly cares about the victims (restorative justice), because even though the Nazi empire caused the Holocaust, subsequent governments of Germany have recognized the genocide as the most documented in history, they have identified the victims, they have applied justice and repair the harm which was caused to them. This while recognizing advanced educational programs to teach about the Holocaust and thus prevent such unfortunate events from happening again.

The State must earn the trust of the victims; and that trust is earned by advancing efforts to ensure the right to truth (clarifying what happened to their loved ones), justice (imposing appropriate penalties in a context of transitional justice) and repair (restoring the land from which they were moved and repairing the material and moral damage caused). A justice that serves as a budget and guarantee of peace, must respect the rights the victims because they are also protagonists in the conflict.

The victim's condition and the recognition of their rights must be made, according to the UN, in every legal process, and therefore in all political process, where a peaceful solution of the conflict is tried, “without distinction, whether it be race, color, sex, age, language, religion, nationality, political opinion or otherwise, beliefs or culture practices, economic status, birth or family status, ethnic or social origin, or physical disability.” This involves expanding the space for the participation of representatives of all the victims of the armed conflict, so that they can also contribute in the search for alternative solutions enabling the Colombian society to live in peace.

To achieve this noble goal it is important to consider that according to Resolution 40/34 of 1985 of the UN: “Victims should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity. They are entitled to access to the mechanisms of justice and to prompt redress, as provided for by national legislation, for the harm that they have suffered.”

And to achieve this goal, the Congresses of Latin America and of the whole world must review the national legislations to establish effective legal and administrative mechanisms that enable victims to obtain reparation through formal or informal procedures that are unobstructed, fair, inexpensive and accessible. Every victim has the right to access justice, a fair, prompt and effective justice.

The main way to ensure the right to human dignity of the victims is promptly recognizing their status as victims and validating their feelings, helping the offender asking for forgiveness and giving them access to justice, the truth of what happened to their loved ones becoming clear without unnecessary delay, and repairing the damage that was caused to them; and if possible, restoring things to the state they were in before the criminal behaviors were committed.

The peaceful resolution of all conflicts is the best option; and for that we must exhaust all necessary efforts to identify the points of agreement, the points of convergence.

The points of convergence and respect for others, even if they think differently, are the foundation of any process of peace.

In order to guarantee the rights of victims, all of the States, through their governments, must review the procedures and laws to put in effect the compensation of damages to the victims of any conflict. Delayed justice is not justice. And justice which only punishes the victims without repairing the damage, is the State’s vengeance.

And the compensation must also be done for Mother Earth and indigenous peoples displaced by violence. So states the Organization of the United Nations in the resolution:

«In cases of substantial harm to the environment, restitution, if ordered,

should include, as far as possible, restoration of the environment,

reconstruction of the infrastructure, replacement of community facilities and

reimbursement of the expenses of relocation, whenever such harm results in the

dislocation of a community.»

And when indemnity is not fully available from the offender or other sources, States should provide financial compensation to all victims of serious crimes and their families. The State, through its legislators, judges and leaders, cannot ignore the fate of orphans and widows.

It is important that the States establish, strengthen and expand “national funds to compensate victims.” All of this without leaving aside that, according to the UN guidelines, victims should receive “material, medical, psychological and social necessary assistance, through the government, volunteers, community and natives.”

My call is to all legislators to review the national legislation and strengthen the national funds to compensate victims. Those funds are strengthened with the money and assets seized from perpetrators, and in addition, with the State funds contributions, because every time a crime is committed, the State’s failure is evident.

Since the abuse of power on behalf of the State is also a form of violence and victimization, the States must consider “the possibility of incorporating national legislation laws proscribing abuses of power and providing remedies to victims of such abuses.” It is the State’s duty to periodically revise their legislation to update the changing necessities of victims and the dangers they are exposed to. Not attending to the victims and leaving them helpless is another way of victimization.

The commitment with victims of all conflicts, whether individual or armed, is a to ensure a justice for peace. A restorative justice that not only imposes penalties on perpetrators but also repairs the damage caused, and in any way possible, restore things to the state in which they were before the commission of criminal of criminal behavior; because that way the victim and the offender will have peace; the community and nation will trust the judiciary power; and the people will trust the State, because it guarantees an effective justice through judiciary, legislative and executive powers.

Despite the tragedy of violence that for so many years has plagued the Colombian nation, the Colombian people have faith in reconciliation… despite the ravages of violence, hope persists. The process of peace today, with so many struggles, efforts and dedication, advances the Government of beautiful Colombia, it attracts the attention of the world. However, it is not enough to focus our attention as mere spectators of the efforts that the Colombian nation advances towards reconciliation. As activists for peace we should offer our support towards actors of peace in Colombia, State spokespersons, the guerrilla and the representatives of the victims, for the sake of understanding they sacrifice individual interests, overcome the differences and achieve unity and peace based on the respect of others.

That process of solidarity and collaboration with the Colombian people and authorities should be carried out by all activists for peace. And that process of reconciliation, like all mediation management and peaceful solution of the armed conflict, should start by recognizing the condition of the victims, of those directly affected, of those whom family members were killed or displaced them of their lands, among many other manifestations of violence.

The memory of the victims is honored at these events. And by recognizing them as victims, as protagonists of the Colombian conflict, we work to effectuate their right to truth, justice, reparation of damage, memory and guarantee of no repetition of all those expressions of the barbarism that threaten human dignity and freedom and serenity of civilians.

The advances of peace dialogues that the Colombian nation has, places her as an example to the other nations. That process of peace deserves our support and contribution in the search of solutions to overcome the differences. The Global Embassy of Activists for Peace, with its projects and different activities that are carried out in Colombia and other countries of America, will always provide their contribution to building peace. And that peace that Colombia yearns and needs can only be built based on truth, with a prompt and effective justice whose primary objective is to repair the victims and not only punish the perpetrators.

Justice is administered with truth, and with dialogue reconciliation is reached. That is how the peace the Colombian nation yearns is built.

Thank you.