World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media

13 April 1999


The full text of the WCC intervention made on 12 April to the 55th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, meeting in Geneva 22 March-30 April 1999, follows:

Madam Chairperson,

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches wishes to emphasize the importance of the struggle against impunity towards the end of this century where many nations have to deal with the terrible legacy of former regimes that perpetrated grave violations of human rights.

The World Council of Churches is in a position to testify to the courageous efforts made by churches and human rights groups to overcome the culture of impunity in their societies. For the churches an essential part of post-conflict healing is the pursuit of truth and justice for victims. Recent history shows there can be no genuine process of national reconciliation without addressing the question of accountability for past crimes. As illustrated by the case of General Pinochet, which has become symbolic of many similar situations, there are human rights violations which leave in people's memories wounds that neither time nor amnesty-impunity laws can erase.

The international community as well as national governments are increasingly aware of the ethical, social and political implications of this question. The Council welcomes the agreement for establishment of the International Criminal Court that would help the international community to deal with the enforcement of human rights. The establishment of national truth commissions constitutes also an important tool towards the eradication of the culture of impunity. However, such tools require political will and effective mechanisms based on a fair and just approach.

A case in point is the exemplary report presented on February 25, 1999, by the Truth Commission in Guatemala. Established through the Peace Accord of Oslo in June 1994, this "Commission for Historical Clarification" (CEH) was given the mandate to "clarify with objectivity, equity and impartiality, the human rights violations and acts of violence connected with the armed confrontation". The report was received with great emotion and joy by the people who suffered the most. The victims felt for the first time that their dignity is restored through the public acknowledgment of the abuses committed against them and through the assigning of responsibilities for the violations of human rights.

For the government of Guatemala, as well as for the international community which demonstrated its concern for the human rights situation in this country for many years, the challenge now is to meet the expectations raised by the report among the victims and the civil society at large by ensuring that its recommendations will be implemented.

This applies in particular to the judicial system. As pointed out by the Commission for Historical Clarification, the system of justice has been unable to investigate, prosecute and sanction those who are responsible for the grave violations of human rights, and to protect the victims of such violations. To date, the system of administration of justice continues to promote impunity and constitutes a critical problem for the consolidation of democracy and respect for human rights.

Transforming a judicial system, plagued by decades of corruption, and under threats from those sectors that have no interest in seeing the Rule of Law, is a difficult yet indispensable task.

The World Council of Churches, in support of its partners involved in the struggle against impunity in Guatemala, calls on the international community, through the UN Commission on Human Rights, to accompany the efforts of the Guatemalan government in the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth Commission report. In this respect, we particularly welcome the announcement made earlier today by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers about the invitation extended to him by the government of Guatemala. The system of justice requires to be addressed with urgency. Such an act will represent a concrete expression of concern for the victims. It will help create an environment where justice and accountability will finally prevail over impunity."

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.