Reparations and Assistance for Victims: Lessons from the ICC and Colombia

This post is based on my new paper in the International Journal of Transitional Justice’s forthcoming special issue, “Reconsidering Appropriate Responses to Victims of Conflict,” guest edited by Juan Mendez. Comments are welcomed!

In March 2015, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court issued its first-ever judgment on reparations, in the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case, confirming the Court’s historic commitment to moving beyond retributive justice for victims of the gravest crimes. At the same time, it urged the Court’s Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) to issue assistance measures to victims who fall outside the scope of victimization determined at trial [Reparations Judgment, para. 215]. The use of assistance to complement, fill in, or expand reparations programs is both novel and increasing in international law and transitional justice, yet there is little research focused specifically on their combination.

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A Peace March supported by the Colombian Victims’ Unit, which implements reparations and assistance for victims of the armed conflict. Source: Victims’ Unit

In my paper in the forthcoming special issue on victims in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, edited by Juan Mendez, I present two contemporary examples where reparations and assistance are being combined for victims of grave crimes: the ICC’s forthcoming reparations awards in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [see here and here] and Colombia’s recent reparations program – Law 1448 – for victims of its armed conflict.

The relationship between ‘reparations’ and ‘assistance’ exposes fundamental tensions at the heart of transitional justice: between inclusive and exclusive approaches to reparative justice; between the legal strictures of redress and the complex realities of violence; and, ultimately, between the supposed symbolic power of reparative justice and victims’ experience of reparations in practice. While scholars and practitioners often assume that reparations and assistance are clearly distinct, their combination suggests otherwise. Both the ICC and Colombian cases highlight that the line between reparations and assistance can become blurry in practice. They can look similar in form, have similar impacts, be distributed through similar processes and, I argue, impart similar notions of responsibility and recognition to victims of grave crimes and gross violations of human rights.

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Reparations in Ituri: A Long Awaited Judgment in the Lubanga Trial

Yesterday the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its judgment on the appeals against the Trial Chamber (TC)’s Decision Establishing the Principles and Procedures to be applied to Reparations (decision on reparations) in the case against Thomas Lubanga. This landmark ruling, together with the recent judgments in the Lubanga and Ngudjolo cases and the decision not to appeal the trial judgment in Katanga, are clear signs that the ICC is getting ready to deliver its first ever reparations. The unfolding of this reparative process in the Ituri district of the DRC highlights the challenges the ICC faces in trying to reconcile the notion of individual criminal responsibility with the mass scale of the crimes over which it holds jurisdiction. It further provides an acute illustration of the key tensions stemming from the fact that the ICC judicial process aims to be not merely punitive but also reparative.

Ituri District: Where forthcoming reparations will now seek to repair the harm from a war that happened over ten years ago

(For background on the Ituri war and trials, we’ve written extensively about the region, all of which you can find here.)

In its decision on reparations, the TC underlined the importance of reparations, both as a “well-established and basic human right” and as a reflection of the “need to go beyond the notion of punitive justice.” While noting that reparations oblige the convicted person to repair the harm he or she caused, the TC found that they could contribute more broadly to the communities that were affected and assist in promoting reconciliation. In yesterday’s judgment, the AC seems to have adopted the same approach.

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Katanga Accepts Conviction and Expresses Regret for Victims’ Suffering: What About Reparations?

By Stephen Smith Cody

Stephen Smith Cody directs the Atrocity Response Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he designs and manages research related to human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Stephen holds a PhD in sociology and JD, both from Berkeley. You can follow him here. This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

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International Criminal Court staff speak about the Court’s activities to residents of Bogoro, the town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the center of the trials against Germain Katanga and Mathew Ngudjolo Chui. Source: Human Rights Watch

Few observers expected Germain Katanga, a militia leader found guilty of promoting ruthless attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, to lay down his arms and accept the judgment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, according to a statement from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor released Wednesday, both the Katanga defense team and the prosecution team discontinued their appeals, making the Court’s guilty judgment and sentence of 12 years imprisonment final.

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The Ntaganda confirmation of charges decision: A victory for gender justice?

by Rosemary Grey

Rosemary Grey is a PhD Candidate at the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales. She has previously written for Beyond The Hague on the possibility of trying persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation under the Rome Statute. Rose can be reached at r.grey@unsw.edu.au and here.

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Nyankunde, Ituri District, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ituri experienced some of the bloodiest fighting of the Congo Wars. Source: Peter Dixon

On Monday, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed the charges against alleged war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, the former commander of an armed group active in the Ituri District of the Democratic Republic of Congo called the Union des Patriotes Congolais/Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (UPC-FPLC). For some background on the Ituri conflict, see previous BTH posts here and here.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision considers several important issues, including the sexual exploitation of child soldiers by their commanders. While the case has been underway since 2006, the charges of sexual violence against the child soldiers are a relatively recent development.

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Is the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims a Judicial Entity?

Last week, the Executive Director of the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims, Pieter de Baan, spoke to the “Group of Friends of the ICC” in New York. This was the first of the Group’s proposed annual “high level meetings” to “highlight the importance of the ICC in relation to accountability, prevention and justice for victims.” This meeting focused on victims’ rights and the need for reparative justice. Mr. De Baan spoke about the work the TFV has carried out under its assistance (or “second”) mandate in northern Uganda and eastern DRC and of the work it may soon carry out under the banner of reparations in Ituri. Other speakers included the trauma expert Yael Danieli and Sandra Uwiringiyimana, a massacre survivor from eastern Congo who came to the U.S. as a refugee. Both Ms. Danieli and Ms. Uwiringiyimana delivered powerful and moving testimonies. The full program is available here.

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The Trust Fund for Victims (trustfundforvictims.org)

The meeting did not, however, venture into the tricky details of how exactly reparations will work at the ICC, still a subject of lively debate almost two years after the Court’s first reparations order (there was also a debate over whether the 7 August, 2012 Decision counted as an order or just as a decision on principles, which I don’t go into here). Indeed, despite the TFV’s valuable experience delivering assistance to vulnerable populations in ICC situation countries, the precise role it is supposed to play in a Court-ordered reparations process is still not clear.      Continue reading

What a difference a year (or 8) makes: Bosco Ntaganda, justice and politics in the Congo

This week, Bosco Ntaganda is in court for the confirmation of charges hearing at the ICC. You can watch the Court’s live stream (with a slight delay) here. Ntaganda has been wanted by the ICC since 2006, when Luis Moreno Ocampo was issuing the Court’s first arrest warrants, including that for for Thomas Lubanga Diylo. Lubanga would go on to become the Court’s first-ever conviction. Ntaganda would continue to play a leading role in one of the world’s worst conflicts in history before surrendering in Kigali in March of last year. He’s now been in ICC custody for about a year and a wanted war criminal for almost 8. It’s easy to forget how we got here.

Bosco Ntaganda

The arrest warrant for Lubanga was issued under seal on 10 February, 2006 and unsealed a little over a month later, one day after he was transferred to The Hague. The arrest warrant for Bosco was issued under seal on 22 August, 2006 and unsealed almost 2 years later, about 5 years before he would surrender in Kigali. Before that, Ntaganda lived openly in Goma, notoriously flaunting his most-wanted status. In scenes of disturbing irony, Ntaganda would play tennis and dine at the same clubs and restaurants as the aid workers and UN staff charged with supporting the victims of the war in which he played a leading role.

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What does recognition mean?

[updated 11 February, 2014]

The element of recognition that is part and parcel of reparations, and that makes them different from mere compensatory schemes, will typically require targeting victims for special treatment. This is part of what it means to give them recognition.

– Pablo de Greiff

It’s well-accepted today in international justice circles that victims want recognition. It’s also well-accepted that recognition is good for victims. Mariana Goetz of REDRESS said recently, for example, that “the quality of the recognition that the process provides [victims] may be more important than the final result.” But what does recognition mean? And how is it good for victims of grave crimes?

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Source: Report of the Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Congo (OHCHR)

On the one hand, there’s the assumption that victims want to be recognized as such. “Victims have indicated they want to be recognized by the international community at large,” according to the Registry, “as victims of the crimes committed against themselves, their families, neighbors, and ethnic groups.”

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