means "exemption from punishment or loss". In the international law
of human rights
, it refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations
to justice and, as such, itself constitutes a denial of the victims' right to justice
. Impunity is especially common in countries that lack a tradition of the rule of law
, suffer from corruption
or that have entrenched systems of patronage
, or where the judiciary
is weak or members of the security forces are protected by special jurisdictions
. The amended Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity
, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
on 8 February 2005
, defines impunity as:
- "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.
The First Principle of that same document states that:
- "Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations."
Truth and reconciliation commissions are frequently established by nations emerging from periods marked by human rights violations – coups d'état, military dictatorships, civil wars, etc. – in order to cast light on the events of the past. While such mechanisms can assist in the ultimate prosecution of crimes and punishment of the guilty, they have often been criticised for perpetuating impunity by enabling violators to seek protection of concurrently adopted amnesty laws.