You are here:
Switzerland's conceptual framework for dealing with the past
Although there is no standard model for dealing with the past, Switzerland has strongly contributed to the elaboration of a conceptual framework in this field. The so-called “Joinet principles” constitute the basis of this approach. They identify four key areas in the struggle against impunity:
- The right to know,
- The right to justice,
- The right to reparation,
- The guarantee of non-recurrence.
The right to know
The right to know the truth and the duty to remember involve both the individual right of victims and their families to learn the truth about what happened to them or their loved ones and the collective right of society to know the truth about past events and circumstances which led to gross human rights violations. These are an important part of the necessary measures to prevent the risk of human rights violations recurring.
In addition, it involves an obligation on the part of the State to undertake measures to preserve the collective memory and so to guard against the development of revisionist arguments. The most frequently used instrument to ensure this right is the extra-judicial commission of inquiry, also known as truth and reconciliation commissions. Their two-fold purpose is to dismantle the administrative machinery that has led to abuses in the past in order to ensure that they do not recur and to preserve evidence for the judiciary. The second measure often entails documentation and the preservation of archives relating to grave human rights violations.
The right to justice
The right to justice and the duty to investigate and to prosecute imply that any victim can assert his or her rights and receive fair and effective remedy for abuses suffered. This includes the expectation that the person or persons responsible will be held accountable to the law and that reparations will be forthcoming. It also entails the obligation on the part of the State to investigate violations, to arrest and to prosecute the perpetrators and, if their guilt is established, to punish them.
The right to reparation
The right to reparation, both at the individual level and in collective forms, entails individual measures for victims and their relatives or dependants such as:
- Restitution, i.e. seeking to restore the victim to his or her previous situation;
- Compensation for physical or mental injury, including lost opportunities, physical damage, defamation, and legal aid costs;
- Rehabilitation, i.e. medical care, including psychological and psychiatric treatment.
Collective measures of reparation involve symbolic acts such as annual tributes of homage to the victims or public recognition by the State of its responsibility, which help to discharge the duty of remembrance and help restore victims’ dignity.
The guarantee of non-recurrence
The guarantee of non-recurrence includes vetting/lustration and institutional reform. It emphasizes the need to disband para-military armed groups (DDR), to reform security institutions, repeal emergency laws, and to remove officials from office who are implicated in serious human rights violations following a fair and transparent procedure. It also foresees the reform of state institutions in accordance with the norms of good governance and the rule of law.
- Graph dealing with the past (52 Kb, pdf)