The Right to the Truth for the Families of Victims of the Katyń Massacre

In recent decades, the jurisprudence of international human rights tribunals has aimed at crystallising the “right to the truth”. This concept was developed in the context of enforced disappearances in South American countries but has also been invoked in dealing with the past in Europe, for instance in the case of accounting for the crimes of the Franco regime. Similarly, attempts were made to apply this concept in the context of the Katyń massacre.

History knows many cases of enforced disappearances, for example, the practices of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. However, this phenomenon was named only in the 1960s, when the regimes in South American countries carried it out on a wide scale. The original Spanish term desapariciones forzadas was translated into English as enforced disappearances and denotes the human rights violation of the imprisonment of a person by state officials or groups acting in collaboration with the state, while information regarding the fate of this person is purposefully kept secret.

Enforced disappearances not only violate the human rights of the missing persons but also of their family members. The latter, uncertain about the fate of their relatives, spend several decades searching for their loved ones, often involving subsequent generations in these activities as well. The efforts by the families of the disappeared to discover the truth about these disappearances were the impulse for developing the concept of the “right to the truth”. According to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which entered into force in 2010, in the case of enforced disappearances, the right to the truth applies to all who suffered as a result of the enforced disappearance (thus, also to the disappeared persons’ family) and relates to the fate of the missing person, the circumstances of their disappearance, and the results of the conducted investigation ...

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