Impunity means "exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines". 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 and redress. 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 or immunities.
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.
The primary goal of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002, is "to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators" [...] "of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole".
- "Free Dictionary". Free Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
- "Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity". Derechos.org. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
- "What Next for International Justice?"International Center for Transitional Justice
- [Preamble, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: http://legal.un.org/icc/statute/romefra.htm]