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Mechanisms complementing prosecution

31-03-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 845, by Laura Olson

   

Laura M. Olson,
J.D., LL.M., is a Legal Adviser at the ICRC’s Legal Division. She has previously had other field and headquarters assignments for the ICRC. 

 
Abstract 
Any State going through a period of transition after emerging from a repressive regime or a conflict must decide whether to deal with its history of violations. Those States which choose to face up to their past must determine how to do so. Should emphasis be placed on calling those responsible for such violations to account or on acknowledging the truth about what happened? The solution is usually a combination of the two.
 

Prosecution - holding perpetrators accountable - demonstrates the principle that respect for the law takes precedence over political decisions. Failure to prosecute promotes a culture of impunity and denies what some consider as the most effective deterrent to future repression. However, even where there is the political will to prosecute, common problems mean that few trials take place and limit the role a properly functioning judicial system can play in reconciliation and in a transition to peace or to a non-repressive regime.

In such cases it is best to complement prosecution with ot her mechanisms. This article briefly describes the most important of those complementary mechanisms: truth commissions, lustration, reparations and customary methods.

 

   
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