Your rights as survivor
As a survivor of severe human rights violations, you have specific rights. These rights are as important as all other human rights, and hopefully most survivors will receive help and support. Internationally, a lot of people and organisations work to ensure that survivors are treated with dignity and respect, and that survivors are provided a basis from which to move on in life. Quite often, such organisations are non-governmental, established through private initiatives, NGO’s and the United Nations (such as the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Torture). Some governments also fund initiatives aimed at ensuring survivors can claim their rights. At the same time, we know that unfortunately many survivors live in contexts within which their rights as survivors are not being met fully.
Survivors have the right to redress and rehabilitation, to remedy and reparation, and these rights are stated in an important document called ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law’. In the document it is stated that survivors have the right to the following remedies:
Equal and effective
access to justice
Meaning access to fair and impartial proceedings in the judiciary, in court, as well as to other administrative or other bodies in accordance with domestic law. Survivors must receive information about all available remedies, make sure the procedures are as convenient and safe as possible for survivors, those who testify and the survivor’s family and friends, the state should provide proper assistance to the survivor in order to receive justice and make sure states do all they can so that survivors can claim their rights to justice.
Adequate, effective and prompt
reparation for harm suffered
Meaning that the survivor should receive help to restore their liberty, enjoyment of human rights, identity, family life and citizenship, return to one’s place of residence, restoration of employment and return of property. Survivors should receive compensation for economically assessable damage, such as physical or mental harm, lost opportunities including employment, education and social benefits, material damages and loss of earnings, moral damage, cost required for legal or expert assistance, medicine and medical services, and psychological and social services.
Rehabilitation should include medical and psychological care as well as legal and social services. Also, measures should be taken to make sure the violations stop, that the truth about what happens becomes known to all (as long as it doesn’t harm or threaten the safety of the survivors), the search for the disappeared, wounded and killed as well as reburial of the bodies in accordance with cultural practices and the wish of survivors, an official declaration to restore the dignity, reputation and rights of survivors, a public apology, sanctions against persons liable for the violations, commemorations and tributes to survivors and those who did not survive, and spread accurate information about what happened through education and training.
Access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms
Meaning that States should develop means of informing the general public and, in particular, victims of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law of the rights and remedies addressed by these Basic Principles and Guidelines and of all available legal, medical, psychological, social, administrative and all other services to which victims may have a right of access.
Guarantees of non-repetition
Meaning that adequate measures must be taken – among others in the civilian control, military and security forces, to make sure such violations never happen again.
Another important document is the ‘Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ (also known as CAT). It prohibits all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In article 14 it is stated that “each state party shall ensure to victims of torture an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation”. The right to a remedy and reparation means access to justice, reparation, including economic compensation, as well as rehabilitation.
A document called ‘General Comment no 3’ focuses on the importance of psychological support to survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence, both immediately after the violence, if possible, and as part of a more long-term reparation.
The central message is that survivors should receive compensation for the damage that has been done to them as well as help and support to move on in life and to live a life with dignity and meaning. In many cases survivors need medical care, psychological care, social support, as well as practical help with issues such as housing and rebuilding their lives – sometimes at the same place as before, sometimes somewhere else or in a new country. Often survivors need this kind of help not only immediately after the violation took place, but in the long term. Receiving this kind of help and support is part of the rights survivors have – for redress, remedies, rehabilitation and reparation – and hopefully you as a survivor are able to claim these rights.
Treatment of survivors
In the document ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines’ referred to above, it is stated that survivors (or victims) “should be treated with humanity and respect for their dignity and human rights” and that “appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their safety, physical and psychological well-being and privacy, as well as those of their families”. It also says that States should ensure that their domestic laws, as much as possible, should allow survivors to “benefit from special consideration and care in the course of legal and administrative procedures designed to provide justice and reparation”. The idea is that survivors should be able to claim their rights in an environment that is sensitive to their needs with the objective to avoid re-traumatization as much as possible. It is important that you as a survivor are aware of this, and at the same time it is equally important to know that unfortunately – although it is part of international human rights law – survivors are not always treated well in the judicial and other administrative bodies in their countries.
It is important to know something about reporting. By reporting we mean that the survivor reports the human rights violations that happened to them to the police or to other relevant institutions. In a human rights context reporting is important. It is a way of working towards justice by fighting impunity as well as the prevention of human rights violations and allows us to work towards these important goals internationally.
However, for you as a survivor reporting can be extremely difficult and sometimes even dangerous. In many countries, survivors are met with suspicion and disrespect, and sometimes the survivor is even seen as responsible for what happened to them or is being pressed charges against and accused of having broken domestic law. This is enormously sad and troubling, of course. It limits your possibilities as a survivor to seek justice, and to claim your rights. Before considering reporting it is important to talk to someone. This should be a person who has enough insight to give you an overview of the pros and cons of reporting. In addition, you should explore your expectations, such as hope and fears, and the actual outcome, including what risks it might include.
Help and support should always be provided to you independent of whether you choose to report or not.
We have included a list of different organisations and websites that work with either advocacy or with direct support to survivors in different parts of the world.