State security agencies have used such illegal repressive methods as detention without trial and torture, or misused their powers to carry out intelligence operations and raids in order to arrest and hold people. The identity of attackers may then be deliberately concealed from victims. In extreme cases, the perpetrators' certainty that they would never be identified, much less punished, has meant that they have acted with impunity during working hours, perhaps in uniform, in front of witnesses and in official vehicles, subsequently denying any part in the acts.
The involvement of members of different security agencies in an operation, and the illegal use of civilians in security agencies, may make any criminal or disciplinary investigation difficult. The establishment of self-defence groups, which can or do make use of weapons belonging to the armed forces, may be legalized, thus contributing to the number of crimes committed. By keeping no records of either the operations that lead to arrests or of the names of people who are arrested and held in military and police premises, it is easy to ensure the disappearance of people. Authorities conducting preliminary inquiries into abuses may destroy or tamper with evidence. Military tribunals too often leave violations of human rights unpunished. The refusal of authorities to admit any complaints about acts which violate human rights is a crucial factor ensuring the impunity of any violators. Witnesses or complainants in such cases may be intimidated, be murdered or simply disappear.
In Colombia, for example, it was alleged in 1993 that a culture of impunity among officials had been fostered by the repeated suspension of constitutional rights. The system of military tribunals gave their armed forces the right to judge their own crimes. Reforms are often window dressing and fail to weed out and punish guilty people in authority. Constitutional devices are also used to stifle legitimate political opposition.
Impunity is a huge problem in Brazil because of the immense power of the local landlords. They possess extensive areas remaining uselessly uncultivated. They spare no means to prevent landless peasants and other democratic forces from carrying out land reforms for the benefit of the indigent part of the population. They have a strong impact on the local courts, police and military. So they have virtually free hands to get rid of rural workers and others who are struggling for a just distribution of the land and a fair judicial system with guarantees of the public security of the citizens. The fee for having a murder committed by a corruptible policeman is about $1,000.
2. Allowing the perpetrators of serious human rights violations to go unpunished is tantamount to leaving the machinery intact and condoning the conduct that enabled such crimes to be committed and to shirking a fundamental responsibility to the future: namely protecting the basic values of civilized ecoexistence.
3. Impunity of perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the case of mass rape during armed conflict does more than prevent victims and their families or dependants from receiving just and adequate reparation. Official failure to condemn or punish systematic rape and otehr forms of sexual abuse and torture allows these to become tools of military strategy. In many situations where impunity has been sanctioned by the law or where de facto impunity exists, the victims have no recourse in seeking redress and reparation.