Abstract

Early this year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, was faced yet again with a seemingly basic question: Does an individual have a legal right to know the truth about the circumstances surrounding the serious human rights violations a loved one has suffered? One might expect to encounter such a privilege in our victim centered system of international human rights protection-especially within the progressive jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court. Yet, it is simply not to be found as a substantive, explicit right. This essay seeks to explore the origins, scope, and key possibilities of an evolving right to the truth. It will argue that truth is not only an essential component of the universally recognized "right to an effective remedy," but that it also serves as the gateway to a broader reparative framework necessary for victims of gross human rights abuse. The analysis shall span the Inter-American, European, and United Nations systems of human rights protection, and also will treat the burgeoning idea of the truth commission, a very prominent means of extra-judicial inquiry in contemporary transitional societies. At the conclusion, the essay will evaluate the implications of a broader, victim-oriented concept of remedy-in which truth plays a crucial role-for the United States as well.