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Torture. 2008;18(1):38-50.

Justice heals: the impact of impunity and the fight against it on the recovery of severe human rights violations' survivors.

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Medical Care Service for Refugees, Bochum, Germany.


Case studies show that traumatized refugees, who are survivors of serious human rights violations, suffer from persisting impunity in their home countries. Ongoing impunity--the inability to overcome the legal protection of the perpetrators assured by impunity laws, incomplete truthfinding, missing integral reparation and a lack of the necessary acknowledgement by society--represents an important obstacle for the recovery of survivors of serious human rights violations. There are reports describing that a high percentage of survivors shows an elevated mental vulnerability caused by impunity. Mental health problems resulting from traumatic experiences can persist or be reactivated by certain events. In particular, family members of the forcibly disappeared suffer from an incomplete mourning due to the uncertain fate of their beloved ones. The ongoing search for the forcibly disappeared under an atmosphere of impunity puts family members under high risk of retraumatization. Studies from other continents also prove that impunity severely affects mental health. Due to the global character of impunity there can be only little evidence about a positive impact of justice on mental health. Nevertheless, a few examples, in particular from Latin America, show that the combined implementation of memory, truth and justice can have a healing impact on those who suffer from trauma. They demonstrate that the fight against impunity is not only a legitimate moral struggle for human rights, but also a basic need for the sustainable recovery of survivors.

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