Commemoration of the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

Today, the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. Today the NTJWG stands with survivors and victims of past conflict as well families of those who lost their lives during past conflict acknowledging their right to know the truth about what transpired during the various periods of gross human rights violations. Zimbabwe’s history is marred with episodes of gross human rights violations such as Gukurahundi, violent farm invasions at the turn of the millennium, Operation Murambatsvina, and election-related violence between 2000 and 2018, and the memories of the violence remain in the minds of many.

On 21 December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/65/196 proclaimed 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. In its proclamation, the UN recognised the important work done by Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered on 24 March 1980 for denouncing violations of human rights in El Salvador and resolved that on this day, tribute be paid to this man who lost his life in defence of human rights. The commemoration of this day signifies a global recognition that survivors, victims, their families, and society have the right to know the truth regarding gross human rights violations. The right to truth refers to the entitlement due to victims of serious human rights violations, their families, and the rest of society to know the truth about past violations. This right implies knowing the full and complete truth about what happened, where, to whom, how, why, under what circumstances as well as who instigated and executed the human rights violations.

This year’s commemorations of this important day come at a time when there is increase in discourse about the past and the need for exhumations and reburials of the remains of victims of past conflict in Zimbabwe. The NTJWG commends the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) for the recommendation for a national policy on exhumations it made in its 2019 Annual Report. Such a policy is necessary to address exhumations and provide direction on who must carry them out and how they must be done among other issues. An exhumations policy would have to take cognisance of the right to truth and facilitate for exhumations and reburial processes to be carried out in a manner that will enable the families of victims of past conflict and society to finally know the truth about what happened in the past.

The NTJWG implores the NPRC to ensure that processes dealing with the past are driven by the desire to promote truth-telling and truth-seeking as these are key to national healing. Furthermore, the NTJWG calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to demonstrate its sincerity to deal with the past by providing the NPRC with the support it needs to uncover the truth about the past and help victims, survivors, their families, and the nation find closure and healing. It is incumbent upon the State to put in place investigative measures, truth-seeking, and truth-telling mechanisms to enable the survivors, victims, and their families to enjoy their right to truth and find closure. The involvement of the NPRC gives credibility to such processes contrary to the ongoing exclusive Gukurahundi discussions without the involvement of such a body. Exhumations are an important component of truth-telling and truth-seeking as such they must be carried out in a manner that allows the bones to speak their truth.

Source: National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG)