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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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 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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Uganda Announces Transitional Justice Policy

On 21 May 2013, the Republic of Uganda became the first state in Africa to publish a comprehensive Draft Transitional Justice Policy. Six years after the Juba Peace negotiations between the Lord’s Resistance Army (‘LRA’) and the Government of Uganda (‘GoU’) ended without being formally signed by both parties, the GoU has committed itself to implementing an holistic Transitional Justice policy, designed to address issues of accountability, reparation and reconciliation in post-conflict Uganda. While still a ‘draft’ policy, it marks an historic step by the GoU in creating a framework designed to implement the provisions of the ‘Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation’, Item no. 3 of the Juba Peace Agreement.

At the beginning of the Juba negotiations, Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti sit inside a tent at Ri-Kwamba in Southern Sudan. Photo credit: CSMonitor.

At the beginning of the Juba negotiations, Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti sit inside a tent at Ri-Kwamba in Southern Sudan. (Photo credit: CSMonitor)

In summary, the draft Ugandan policy provides for the following central interventions:

  1. Regarding formal justice processes, the GoU shall ensure witnesses are protected and victims can participate in proceedings;
  2. The GoU commits to recognizing traditional justice mechanisms as a tool for conflict resolution;
  3. The GoU shall establish and resource a national truth-telling process;
  4. The GoU shall establish and implement a reparations programme for victims affected by conflict; and
  5. There shall be no blanket amnesty, with those who have already received amnesty encouraged to participate in truth-telling and traditional justice processes.

On the five commitments listed above, some brief reflections:

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