Redress for Gross Violations of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and Crimes

Gross Violations

Victims of gross violations of human rights or humanitarian law, which are those of a particularly grave nature, such as genocide, torture and crimes against humanity have a right to redress under international law. These rights are spelt out in the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law adopted by UN General Assembly in 2005.

Although not in-and-of-itself a binding document, the Basic Principles clarify the extent and content of the remedies and reparations that victims of gross violations can expect.

The Basic Principles provide for the right to procedural remedies, meaning the possibility of legal and judicial action against the wrong suffered, as well as substantive reparations, the aim of which is to restore as far as possible the situation the victim was in before the violation occurred.

Procedural remedies must include the possibility for criminal as well as civil legal action to be taken on behalf of the victims and the violations that took place, also in order to obtain the substantive reparations. The reparations should include: restitution, which means returning, where possible, whatever loss was suffered, to the victim; compensation, which is relevant where restitution is not possible; satisfaction, meaning amongst other things, that a verification of the facts is performed, a public apology is issued or commemorations and tributes to the victims are paid. Reparations also include the requirement of providing guarantees of non-repetition of the violation.

In the context of all of this it is important to note that these rights exist independent of the identification of the perpetrator. Where a perpetrator is not personally able to provide compensation, being because he or she is not identified, or is not economically capable of doing so, the state should act to provide reparations instead.

This is especially so where the state may have been involved in the violations, as if often the case in cases of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.

It is also important to realize that especially concerning crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity the option for collective redress for collective wrongs, should be provided for, and that in these cases both direct and indirect victims, such as family members, are entitled to redress.