The concept of a public 'Right to Truth' is central to the discourse of the human rights community. It is a general principle from which many rights can be recognised and derived, including the Right to Life, the Right to Legal Recognition, the Right to be Free from Torture, and the Right to Seek Reparation for the Violation of Fundamental Rights.
The Right to Truth is the basis from which we demand investigation, accountability, and prosecution of the guilty, particularly in the context of human rights violations where state impunity blocks the route to justice for the aggrieved. The ‘Joinet Principles’, put together by the Special Rapporteur on Impunity, Louis Joinet, in 1997 described the Right to Truth as an ‘imprescriptible and inalienable right for individuals as well as for society’. The Principles state that governments must investigate gross human-rights abuses, preserve the data, make such information accessible, and publicly report the findings of investigations. These principles are widely accepted within the UN system, expressly by the General Assembly in a 2006 Resolution on ‘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’ and by many states as foundational concepts in the protection of victims and prosecution of serious human rights abuses. Individuals must be accounted for by the state under all circumstances as an essential component of the general principle of the Right to Truth. Recording the details of the deceased and investigating the cause of death, as well as accounting for the missing, are necessary practices in order to ensure that this public right is upheld.
DISCUSSION PAPER: THE LEGAL OBLIGATION TO RECORD CIVILIAN CASUALTIES OF ARMED CONFLICT, p. 21