New ICTJ Guide Explains How to Prevent Applying for Reparations from Becoming a Burden on Victims


NEW YORK, December 7, 2017―For millions of victims around the world, claiming reparations for serious human rights violations often begins with an application form. Yet, filling out these forms and attempting to register for benefits can become a bureaucratic ordeal that provides neither meaningful relief nor justice for victims. A new guide from the International Center for Transitional Justice aims to change that. It offers lessons to those working on reparations programs on how to engage victims and collect the information they need in order to deliver effective, far-reaching reparations.

The 72-page guide, Forms of Justice: A Guide to Designing Reparations Application Forms and Registration Processes for Victims of Human Rights Violations, compares and analyzes dozens of different claims forms and registration programs, including in Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, Peru, the Philippines and Sierra Leone. It covers topics such as designing the registration form, common questions to ask, ensuring victims can participate without undue hardships, and learning lessons from the process. Above all, it emphasizes that the entire registration process should send a clear message to victims and society that the violations were wrong and that victims have rights that must be respected.

The guide also makes several recommendations to policy makers and civil society groups on the design of the victims’ registration process. It calls on them to conduct a detailed study of the full population of victims at the beginning of the process, to anticipate how the form will be rolled-out and used. It also asks them to collect all pertinent information about violations and victims that already exists from other sources, like a truth-seeking process or criminal proceeding – and involve institutions with prior experience dealing with human rights violations.

“Applying for reparations may be the first and possibly only opportunity for victims and their families to report the violations they experienced and their lasting consequences,” says Ruben Carranza, co-author of the guide and director of ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program. “Claiming reparations is often a victim’s first chance to receive recognition, reparations and a sense of justice for the wrongs they suffered.”

The guide is the first resource of its kind to focus exclusively on the registration process and factors to be considered in designing an effective and meaningful reparations form.

It is also extremely timely, with large-scale reparations programs ongoing or planned in several countries, including Tunisia, Kenya and Sri Lanka. These countries have started or indicated that they will soon begin registering millions of victims for violations ranging from torture to sexual violence to killings. The International Criminal Court is also accepting applications for reparations from victims and issues judgements involving reparations.

As the guide explains, there is no model reparations form or registration process to be used in all programs. So, each claims form and registration process must be tailored to the types of violations that were committed, the population of victims, their needs and the resources of the state.

The guide considers both practical and sensitive issues in designing a claims form, such as what languages to use, whether to make the data public at a later date for research and other purposes and whether to ask for the names of alleged perpetrators.

“It is essential to strike the right balance between making the process accessible for victims and collecting the information needed to carry out a reparations policy that responds to violations and their consequences,” explains Cristián Correa, co-author of the guide and senior expert in ICTJ’s “These forms need to be simple, yet allow for verification of facts and flexibility about the types of documentation victims must provide to back up their claims.”

When details of the application are not considered ahead of time, the guide warns, the registration process can become delayed, disorganized and even downright unproductive for all involved. And fewer victims may be willing to come forward.

In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, the absence of a single, approved claims form led to multiple government institutions and nongovernmental groups creating their own forms to try to register victims. This proved to be a waste of time and effort, and possibly retraumatizing for victims, with 64 percent of 870,000 claims ultimately rejected.

The authors of the guide, Carranza, Correa, and Elena Naughton, are leading experts in the field of reparative justice. Carranza was himself a political prisoner in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship (19721986) eligible for reparations from the government. He helped to push for and draft the Philippine law on reparations covering the dictatorship. Today, over 70,000 have applied for reparations.

“We often hear from victims in our work that applying for reparations can be a lengthy, even oppressive process, but it should not be,” says Carranza. “On the contrary, it should acknowledge victims’ hardships and provide a sense of justice.”

The guide explains that although a claims form is an official document, it should not require legal knowledge or a lawyer’s assistance to complete. Instead, special consideration should be given to reaching victims where they are and enabling them to find and fill out forms themselves and participate in the reparations program in a safe and useful way.

Adds Naughton: “Designing a meaningful, effective registration process is not about rigid adherence to some bureaucratic prescriptions, like forcing victims to prove violations occurred in order to claim relief. Instead, it’s about understanding the people who will be using the form and the circumstances they face as victims and survivors of serious human rights violations.”

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Sam McCann Tel: +1 917-637-3824

To mark the launch of our new publication, Forms of Justice: A Guide to Designing Reparations Application Forms and Registration Processes for Victims of Human Rights Violations, we sat down with practitioners and victims alike to get their insight into processes around the world. Read our conversation with Karl Gaspar about his experience completing reparations forms as a victim in the Philippines in 2014, and with Jairo Rivas about his work in designing reparations forms in Peru and Colombia.

Photo: Documentation used in the Philippines