Why Seek the Truth About the Past? A Global Conversation


“Only on the day of justice will the buried finally close their eyes. Otherwise, they will never close.”

-Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemala

On the International Day for the Right to the Truth, the world recognizes that victims and their families have the right to know the truth about grave human rights violations that they have suffered.

In our work providing assistance to societies around the world, we draw continual inspiration from individuals and communities who refuse to ignore the abuses of the past, and who often face great obstacles to expose it. To honor their courage, we invite you to read a selection of perspectives on truth and dignity from those who have used their words to convey a powerful idea: truth is the foundation of justice.

Why do you think we should we seek the truth about the past? Join the conversation on Twitter @theICTJ, using #Right2Truth and #R2T

“Let's not be afraid to be left alone if it's for the sake of the truth.”

-Oscar Romero, Commentary on the Fifth Work of Justice and Peace

Photo: A woman in Brazil demands the truth about the disappeared. (Fora do Eixo)

"What remains in the end is a deep longing for justice. . . We want you all to remember what happened to our children so that it never happens again."

- Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Argentina


"For the Mayan people, truth is transparency, it's honesty.

-Alvaro Pop, Guatemala, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

“The truth is the mirror that reflects peace. We build peace together, using the truth from each of us. If the truth is incomplete, there will never be justice nor peace.”

-Gloria Elcy Ramírez, Colombia, coordinator of the Nunca Más Museum

Photo: Indigenous community in Guatemala mourns the deceased. (Thomas Barvo, EPA/SIPA)

"Silence lost its way

when a hand

opened the doors to voice."

- Francisco Morales Santos, Guatemala


“It would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear.”

-Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma

Photo: Rangoon, Burma, 2007 (Will Baxter)

“I am one of the Khmer daughters and I am curious to know about my terrible past. If someday, I will become a leader of my country, I will avoid repeating the history of the Khmer Rouge regime. I will look forward to a peaceful future by learning lessons from the past.”

-Ot Kosal, Age 20, Battambang Province, Cambodia

Photo: A rebel fighter carries his sonr in Aleppo, Syria on December 7, 2012. (ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

"Saying the truth, even when it is unfavorable to us, will correct the mistakes of the past. It will help us bring a rebirth to Syria, creating a society based on justice, rebuilt by the hands of all Syrians."

-Noura Almasri, Syrian-American Activist, Syrian Relief program specialist at Zakat Foundation of America

"I never doubted that ultimately we were going to be free, because ultimately, I knew there was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.”

-Desmond Tutu, South Africa

Photo: South Africa TRC (Oryx Media Archive, Gallo, Getty Images)

"The sole means of uniting men is their union in the truth."

- Leo Tolstoy

"Silence has a lot of power: silence is killing us."

-Esther Attean
Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

“Above all, I want to know the truth.”

– Petronila Mendoza, Colombia, who seeks truth about the death of her husband by paramilitary forces

Photo: A child placing a flower on the "Sarajevo Red Line" of chairs symbolizing the victims of the siege. April 2012 (Reuters/Dado Ruvic)

“Victims have the right to their personal truths and feelings about the injustice and violence they suffered. And they have the right to testify this truth publicly. In courts they are called to speak about the responsibility of perpetrators, but not their own suffering or emotions.”

-Natasa Kandic, Serbia, human rights activist and former Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Center of Belgrade

“Truth is life, it's land, it's our identity as a community."

Alcibíades Escué, Indigenous leader of Cauca, Colombia

“Truth is the cornerstone of the rule of law, and it will point towards individuals, not peoples, as perpetrators of war crimes, and it is only the truth that can cleanse the ethnic and religious hatreds and begin the healing process.”

-Madeleine Albright, United States, former Secretary of State

Photo: A French soldier of the 13rd BCA in the Kapisa. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/GettyImages)

"Wars are seldom, if ever, fought for noble reasons, but as long as the truth continues to get buried before the first bomb is dropped, history will remain silent, complicit, and tragically repetitive."

-Camilo E. Mejia, United States, Iraq war veteran and resister, author of "Road from ar Ramadi The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia"


"Truth is carried in our ceremonies, truth is carried in our language, and truth is carried in our culture."

-Child Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“This Truth and Reconciliation Commission process is crucial to healing. We must give our people the opportunity to share their experiences, to bring voice to all that has been suppressed and repressed for far too many years.”

-Chief Richard Getchell of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, United States

Photo: Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

“The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are all forced to go the distance.”

-Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, to the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, September 28, 2010

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”


Why seek truth about the past? Join the conversation on Twitter @theICTJ, using #Right2Truth and #R2T