Compensating victims of human rights violations


The remedies for damage resulting from violations of economic, social and cultural rights will vary according to whether the rights violated are collective or individual. In the case of collective rights, the penalties must be of an essentially reparative nature. Thus, for example, compensation in the form of cancellation of debt and debt-servicing could partly repair the injury caused by slavery and colonization. There are numerous historical and legal reasons to justify, in a great many cases, cancelling and in others renegotiating debt on more satisfactory terms, periods of repayment, grace periods and rates of interest. The question of debt has consistently been raised by the developing countries. Indeed, cancellation of the debt of formerly colonized countries was raised as long ago as the second session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, held at New Delhi. Mr. Louis Nègre, the then Minister of Finance of Mali, made the following statement: "Many countries could legitimately have contested the legal validity of debts contracted under the auspices of foreign Powers. Beyond purely legal considerations and rightful claims, we merely wish to ask the creditor countries to show a greater spirit of equity or even justice by proposing, as a test of their goodwill, the cancellation of all debts contracted during the colonial period by interests that were essentially not our own, and for whose servicing our States are unjustly responsible."< History has shown that the huge present-day inequalities between developed and poor countries are the result of centuries of plundering and exploitation during which civilizations, social structures and indigenous modes of production were destroyed and during which the ecosystems of Africa, America and Asia were pillaged. The spoliation of many countries and the impoverishment of large segments of the population are continuing in different forms: deterioration of the terms of trade, transfer of resources from the South to the North, capital flight, structural adjustment, etc. As for cultural goods and those illegally acquired during the period of apartheid, the adequate form of remedy is restitution where this is possible. Those who have been illegally dispossessed must be able to retrieve their full property and cultural goods must be given back to the peoples who are their genuine owners.

As for the violations of individual rights, the harm they have caused can be remedied in several ways such as rehiring (in matter of employment), compensation, rehabilitation, ending the violations, etc. These actions presuppose the existence of a useful and effective system of recourse to the national courts and administrative authorities. In the final analysis, it is most important that the victims, whatever the form of remedy sought, should obtain satisfaction in accordance with the legal provisions in force. Recourse proceedings, though not a remedy in themselves, make it possible to achieve a remedy. That is why the State must, in the framework of its legislation, provide the legal regime for these remedies.


The State has the obligation to establish the necessary legal framework to punish violations of economic, social and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of international instruments. This idea is summarized in the decision handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Velasquez Rodriguez case: "The State has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out a serious investigation of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to ensure the victim adequate compensation."

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions