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[Press release] Togo : towards an effective truth commission

April 2008

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Togo : towards an effective truth commission

29 April 2008

The organisations signing this declaration welcome the opening on 15 April 2008 of national consultations on how truth, justice and reconciliation should be put into practice. This is a major step in the struggle against the impunity enjoyed by those who have committed human rights violations.
The signatory organisations call upon the Togolese authorities to ensure that this process leads to the establishment of an effective truth commission which can ensure that the truth is established, that justice is done and that all victims receive reparation, without prejudice to the legal action taken by some victims.
Indeed, a truth commission is no substitute for a legal process aiming to establish individual criminal responsibility, but must complement the process already set in motion by national judicial authorities. In particular, it must not delay investigation by the Togolese justice system of complaints already filed, in most cases by victims of the 2005 political violence, which have still not been examined.
The signatory organisations also urge the future commission to follow the guidelines referred to in the annex, which were drafted on the basis of international human rights legislation and the case law of international and regional bodies working to defend human rights. They set out recommendations for setting up a truth commission, its functions, powers and working methods.
Over several decades Togo has seen numerous serious human rights violations, including extra-judiciary executions, torture, "disappearances", arbitrary arrest and attacks on the freedom of expression. As yet, none of the alleged perpetrators has been indicted.
In August 2006, all those taking part in the inter-Togolese dialogue – the main political parties and two civil society organisations – signed a Comprehensive Political Agreement aimed at finding a way out of the political crisis in Togo triggered by the April 2005 presidential election, with its irregularities and serious human rights violations. One of the clauses in this Agreement provided for the setting up of a Commission to be responsible for shedding light on political acts of violence committed between 1958 and the present day and studying ways of alleviating the suffering of the victims.
The process of justice, truth and reconciliation launched by the Head of State, Faure Gnassingbé, on 15 April 2008 will, according to the Togolese authorities, report to the office of the High Commissioner for reconciliation and the strengthening of national unity, the ministries of justice and human rights and the reinforcement of democracy, with technical support from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Signatory organisations:

Action by Christians for the abolition of torture (ACAT-France), Amnesty International, International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT), Franciscans International, World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) Secours Catholique - Caritas France.

Contacts :

Guillaume Colin, FIACAT: 0033 1.4280.01.60, g.colin@fiacat.org
Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International : 0033, PRigaud@amnesty.org
Clement Boursin, ACAT-France : 0033, clement.boursin@acatfrance.fr

Annex: guidelines for setting up an effective truth commission

- The commission must, as far as possible, shed light on the facts surrounding the human rights violations committed in the past; feed the evidence gathered into the files of present and future investigations and criminal proceedings and formulate effective recommendations to ensure that full reparation is made to all victims and their families.

- In addition to rehabilitation, compensation and satisfaction, the commission must recommend a wide range of other forms of reparation for victims such as the reform of certain laws, administrative procedures and practices, the strengthening of the legal system and the promotion of human rights education. No recommendation dealing with reparations should be considered a substitute for the prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations, nor should it prevent the victims from attempting, in addition, to obtain compensation from the courts.

- The statutes of a truth commission must guarantee it the full support of the national executive, legislative and judicial authorities.

- The members of a truth commission must be chosen on the basis of their competence in human rights matters, their proven independence and recognised impartiality. The composition of a truth commission must reflect a balance between men and women and a pluralist representation of civil society.

- The truth commission must have as much time as it needs to carry out its mandate.

- The truth commission must have the power to gather any information it considers relevant, and, where necessary, be authorised to demand that such information be supplied.

- The statutes of this commission must include a broadly-formulated residual provision granting it such functions and powers as are needed for it to fulfil its mandate.

- The truth commission must investigate all reliable evidence which may establish individual criminal responsibility. It must then send such evidence (confidentially) to the authorities responsible for legal proceedings, to enable the alleged perpetrators to be indicted without delay.

- In accordance with international law, the commission must not recommend amnesties or similar measures of impunity for crimes under international law.

- If the truth commission decides to adopt specific procedures such as traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution, in order to promote reconciliation at the individual level, it is vital that these mechanisms respect in full the rights and dignity of the victims and alleged perpetrators.

- It must be supported in its work by a secretariat comprising a sufficient number of experienced, trained and competent people.

- As a matter of principle, all aspects of the commission’s work must enter the public domain. Wherever possible, the media and the public must be given information on the truth commission’s work and on the basis for its findings. However, the need to protect the rights of certain victims, witnesses or alleged perpetrators may prevent the investigation from being entirely public, in particular if their security is deemed to be at risk.

- In the course of its work, the truth commission must have regular contact with the representatives of non-government organisations, other non-State institutions and the media, to publicise its work.

- The commission’s statutes must contain detailed provisions ensuring that victims and alleged perpetrators are treated humanely.

- The commission’s statutes must guarantee protection for victims and witnesses whose security may be at risk owing to their involvement in this process. The commission must draw up and implement a full, effective and long-term programme to protect victims and witnesses.
The procedure before the truth commission must be a fair one. In particular, a truth commission must grant witnesses, alleged perpetrators or other persons who may be called before a truth commission the right to legal assistance and to respond to the allegations made against them, and respect the right of those suspected of being responsible for crimes to the presumption of innocence until and unless they are proven beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty according to the law in separate criminal proceedings complying with international standards of fair trial.

- A truth commission must be provided with sufficient national resources and, where necessary, specific development aid.

- The results of the commission’s investigations and its recommendations must be officially announced, published and widely disseminated without undue delay.

- The statutes of a truth commission must provide for a successor body to be set up to monitor implementation of the commission’s recommendations, continue investigations, maintain the archives, etc.

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