Doha, 15 April 2019
The international conference on “National, regional and international mechanisms to combat impunity and ensure accountability under international law” was organized from 14 to 15 April 2019 in Doha by Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Parliament (EP) and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
The conference brought together more than 200 governmental and non-governmental organizations and international experts. The conference aimed at discussing national, regional and international mechanisms to combat impunity for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law, and to ensure accountability. Towards this end, the participants took stock of the relevant international law principles, in particular the 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 the Updated Set of Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity.
The participants emphasized that the duty of every State under international law to respect and to secure respect for human rights requires taking effective measures to combat impunity. In this context, they reiterated that States should incorporate norms of international human rights law and international humanitarian law into their domestic law, or otherwise implement them in their domestic legal system; adopt appropriate and effective legislative and administrative procedures and other appropriate measures that provide fair, effective and prompt access to justice; make available adequate, effective, prompt and appropriate remedies, including reparation; and ensure that their domestic law provides at least the same level of protection for victims as that required by their international obligations.
The participants stressed that in cases of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, States have the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, the duty to submit to prosecution the person allegedly responsible for the violations and, if found guilty, the duty to punish her or him. Remedies for such violations include the victim’s rights to equal and effective access to justice; adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; as well as access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms.
The participants discussed how these principles are being applied in practice by sharing experiences of international, regional and national mechanisms, including the role of national human rights institutions, in advancing these principles and in enhancing accountability. The participants emphasized that achieving accountability and ending impunity must be a priority for the international community.
As accountability is closely linked to sustainable peace and development, it should not be sacrificed during peace negotiations by focusing on development only, since this leads to impunity, which in turn fuels grievances, leads to reoccurrence of violations and crimes and possibly a renewal of conflict.
In order to close the impunity gap, action should focus, inter alia, on understanding the needs of specific groups, such as minorities, women, youth, internally displaced persons and refugees, in order to reduce the obstacles to their access to justice and to understand the impact of crimes on them. By way of example, women are often the first victims of international crimes, in fact they are often specifically targeted because they are women. Moreover, conflict-related violence against women oftentimes is rooted in pre-existing systematic discrimination, women are disproportionately affected by the breakdown in infrastructure and services during armed conflict, they continue being victimized after peace agreements are signed and women victims are stigmatized long after armed conflicts ended. These circumstances need to be understood to overcome challenges for access to justice, but also to deliver genuine accountability and reparations addressing the harm caused.
At the end of the conference, a joint resolution was issued. The recommendations made by the house were read by Anis Anani of OHCHR
- Join the Rome Statute system and accede to all human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as its first optional protocol on individual communications.
- Incorporate the Rome Statute crimes into their domestic laws and establish absolute jurisdiction for international crimes, irrespective of whether the suspect is in custody or in the territory of the State.
- Encourage coalitions of like-minded States and civil society organizations to enhance the debate in the General Assembly on accountability.
- Enhance political accountability by advocating for an end to arms sales, in particular in conflict contexts.
- Support institutions contributing to the responsibility to protect in order to enhance accountability at the national level.
- Create joint investigative teams of prosecutors from different countries and enhance international cooperation with regard to evidence sharing, extradition and mutual legal assistance.
- Ensure that war crimes investigations remain free and protected from political pressure.
- Establish a research centre in the MENA region allowing for exchanges of experiences and lessons learned in promoting accountability, bringing the knowledge available within OHCHR and of international experts to shape practical and technical recommendations.
- Develop a list of national remedies available to victims; and ensure public dissemination, including to other States to promote international cooperation.
- Ensure transparency and access to information and create space for community media to support access to information.
- Organise events at the regional, national and international levels for victims to tell their stories and raise public awareness.
- Empower victims to access and participate in the truth, justice and reconciliation process.
- Provide support to victims to access justice and remedies in a language they understand, including in local languages of the country of origin.
- Promote access to information through restorative justice in setting up agreed upon truth and reconciliation commissions. Learn from traditional justice, which is restorative and collective and adapt to local conditions with participation of all stakeholders.
- Ensure support to victims regardless of their affiliations.
- Ensure that the creation and sustainability of investigative mechanisms are less dependent on member states’ political interests.
- Create archives to preserve information and evidence.
- Eliminate obstacles in civil claims related to human rights violations and international crimes, including with regard to statutes of limitation, State immunity, etc.
- Support victims’ organisations and advocates, and include human rights activists in proceedings.
Civil society should:
- Advocate in the multilateral context for international crimes to be discussed in order for concerted pressure to be exercised on States beyond the confines of Realpolitik.
- Raise awareness amongst States of the need for compensation to victims beyond criminal justice.
- Invest a considerable percentage of transitional justice efforts geared towards funding victims’ organisations and providing these victims with direct assistance.
All national, international and regional mechanisms should:
- Ensure a victim-centred approach to investigating and prosecuting international crimes, and focus on redress and reparations, including through assistance.
- Work towards the establishment of an international observatory that would focus on prevention, accountability and combatting impunity notably through advice, support to intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
- Explore the possibility of establishing a working group to collect good practices and submit an assessment on existing national, regional and international mechanisms to combat impunity and ensure accountability.
- Uphold that the victim’s rights to remedies places emphasis on the agency of victims, including by:
- giving victims access to information as to their rights and available mechanisms,
- establishing the needs of victims through consultation,
- seeking consent of the victims at different stages,
- ensuring victim participation in accountability mechanisms,
- assuring the protection and safety of victims, and
- compensating victims or their families.
- Ensure that women and minority groups participate in public consultations aimed at developing, implementing and assessing reparations programmes.
- Instead of the term “victims”, use alternative terms such as “survivors”, which empower them and give them a voice.
- Ensure that the approach to reparations is multidisciplinary and has a multigenerational dimension that recognizes transgenerational victims.
- Compensation should be effective, easily accessible and proportional.
- Enhance and strengthen the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, in order to create an open forum for victims to express their views.
- Identify victims of core international crimes and the harm they have suffered with a view of offering assistance, moral and material reparation, irrespective of criminal proceedings.
The participants of the conference expressed their gratitude and appreciation to the Qatari National Human Rights Committee and the State of Qatar for hosting the conference. All relevant stakeholders are encouraged to implement the recommendations. The participants are also encouraged to utilize these recommendations in their work and advocacy efforts to combat impunity and ensure accountability under international law.
 “Impunity” means the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims (E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1).