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'If you are going to die anyway, you better die fighting: On the importance of trials in cases related to forced disappearances

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Abstract

Trials are an important part of transitional justice, and there is a growing emphasis on the right to justice through court trials. The rights of victims and survivors of human rights violations to truth, justice and reparations are contained in major human rights treaties, and strengthened in the principles of international criminal law. There is a focus on accountability for those responsible, as well as on redress for the victims. The term transitional justice refers to strategies to address previous wrongs, and covers different elements such as reparations to victims, establishing truth and prosecuting perpetrators. Many arguments have been put forward about why court trials related to past human rights abuses are important: They contribute to fighting impunity, can demonstrate a breach with the past and may be important for victims in order to be reach some degree of closure. Prosecution and particularly punishment of perpetrators are also strong signals that human rights violations are not accepted. Still, court trials related to forced disappearances can be a challenging and protracted process for relatives of the victims, and always have an uncertain outcome. During the trial itself family members and survivors may be present throughout the trial, or may present testimony in court. They may have to endure a number of extremely upsetting events, such as facing the perpetrators in court and reliving severe trauma, as part of the process. They will also have to cope with the outcome of the trial. The question remains, then, of why court trials are so important for family members of persons who have been ''disappeared''? In several countries, organisations of survivors, victims and relatives also seek justice through the court system, and family members of those disappeared invest resources and time in seeking justice through the court system despite all the difficulties that such a strategy implies. Taking the Peruvian situation as a starting point, this paper will explore experiences of going through trials related to forced disappearances, as well as motives for seeking justice through the judicial system. Several motives will be suggested, among them the possibility of knowing the truth about what happened in an individual case and the wish to end impunity