Victims Know Best Which Reparations Programs Will Succeed



December 16 marks the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, which recognizes the rights of victims of mass atrocities to seek and receive reparations and provides states with a guide to planning and implementing them.

On this occasion, ICTJ Communications Associate Dan Verderosa spoke with Cristián Correa, Senior Associate in ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program, who says that ICTJ’s work in Côte d’Ivoire demonstrates that engaging victims in the making of reparations policy is crucial to ensuring that reparations are impactful and address the true needs of victims.

This past year, Correa has been working with victims of post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire to promote their participation in the reparations process and to ensure that measures formulated by the government address the various harms they have suffered. With ICTJ’s assistance, victims presented proposals and recommendations to the National Commission for Reconciliation and Compensation for Victims (CONARIV), a government body tasked with producing a single list of victims and proposing reparations measures for their benefit.

“I felt so encouraged by victims being able to speak so clearly, so strongly, and with even more knowledge than the authorities had on these issues,” says Correa.

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Reflecting on his experience in Côte d’Ivoire, Correa argues that transitional justice experts and practitioners cannot just apply the UN principles on reparations to any situation; they need to adapt them to the unique context of each individual country and to each victim. He contends that the best way to do this is to listen to the concerns of victims and take their recommendations seriously.

Says Correa: “Victims are the best for telling you what might work and what might not.”

Correa also notes that including victims in the reparations process can help them to reassert their dignity.

“Part of being victims is an experience of being passive, of not being strong enough,” says Correa. “Part of a reparations process is to strengthen the capacity of victims to be agents.”

Beyond this personal benefit, Correa emphasizes the political dimension of victims’ participation, which can help “to establish a political process that is respectful of people as citizens and not just as recipients of charity.”

Correa says that a key aspect of his work in Côte d’Ivoire was involving victims from the more rural, remote areas of the country where many of the most serious crimes occurred. Much of the violence that occurred prior to the disputed 2010 election – including the 2002 civil war – occurred outside the capital of Abidjan. The violence that occurred in these regions also reflects ethnic tensions and disputes that don’t exist in Abidjan. Including victims from these areas in the reparations process, according to Correa, is crucial to addressing the particular needs of these communities.

PHOTO: Women victims at a meet in Bouaké to discuss proposals and recommendations for Côte d’Ivoire's reparations policy. (ICTJ)