In the aftermath of conflict or repression, societies often face the reality that the ultimate fate of many victims remains unknown and that the circumstances surrounding their disappearance and suffering are only known to the authors of these crimes, who are often unwilling to reveal the truth. In these societies, truth-seeking initiatives can play a powerful role in documenting and acknowledging human rights violations, and affirming the right of victims and their families to know the truth.
Those seeking the truth about widespread abuses or crimes of mass atrocity confront particular challenges. Repressive regimes deliberately rewrite history and deny atrocities in order to legitimize themselves and avoid being held criminally responsible for serious crimes.
In countries like Argentina and Chile, the military dictatorships attempted to silence and control political opposition through criminal practices that were shrouded in secrecy. Individuals were snatched off the street, dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, or pulled from a protest crowd. Many were never seen or heard from again.
International law clearly recognizes the right of victims and survivors to know the truth about the circumstances of serious violations of human rights and who was responsible.