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Professor Barbara Frey presents on the role and value of transitional justice in human rights

Professor Barbara Frey presents on the role and value of transitional justice in human rights

On January 23rd, Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota, gave a lecture on the topic of "Transitional Justice: Seeking Truth and Accountability for Systematic Human Rights Violations." Her presentation covered the definition of transitional justice, which includes the fundamental questions of whether to respond to atrocity, why we should respond to atrocity, and what are the appropriate responses to atrocity.

Watch a recording of Professor Frey's lecture.

Since 1980, the methods and practices by which human rights are characterized has changed dramatically. Ban Ki-moon, the current U.N. Secretary General, called the new era, "The Age of Accountability." The increased number of truth commissions, prosecutions of human rights violations in domestic courts, and participation in the drafting of international criminal laws demonstrate a greater awareness of responsibility. For example, in 2006, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights declared the "right to truth about serious violations of human rights law is an inalienable and autonomous right." Many human rights lawyers have debated the impact of these trials and commissions; this debate highlights the importance of seeking truth and justice because the two concepts are intertwined when an institution or commissions responds to atrocity.
Frey's presentation also addressed the effectiveness of truth commissions. Truth commissions calculate reparations, acknowledge a historical narrative, and document the truth through public reports. Key aspects of truth commissions include political context, sponsorship, membership, and mandates. Latin America is the world leader in transitional justice; truth commissions have found success in South Africa, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. In the Guatemalan case, over 42,000 victims, 23,000 deaths, 6,000 disappearances, and 626 massacres were documented. However, the exposing of these "truths" does not guarantee reconciliation.
Finally, Frey's presentations underscored the overall trend of increasing human rights awareness through trials, commissions, and the subsequent drafting of laws. Because the number of new amnesty laws drafted has remained constant, turning our attention to the past, instead of simply pushing forward, has become paramount in today's "Age of Accountability."
Written by Volunteer Sean Van Domelen
February 13th, 2014