Reparations for victims of human rights violations are meant to recognize and address the harms suffered and acknowledge wrongdoing. ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program provides knowledge and comparative experience of reparations to victims' groups, civil society, and policymakers worldwide.
Reparations serve to acknowledge the legal obligation of a state, or individual(s) or group, to repair the consequences of violations — either because it directly committed them or it failed to prevent them. They also express to victims and society more generally that the state is committed to addressing the root causes of past violations and ensuring they do not happen again.
With their material and symbolic benefits, reparations are important to victims because they are often seen as the most direct and meaningful way of receiving justice. Yet, they are often the last-implemented and least-funded measure of transitional justice.
It is important to remember that financial compensation — or the payment money — is only one of many different types of material reparations that can be provided to victims. Other types include restoring civil and political rights, erasing unfair criminal convictions, physical rehabilitation, and granting access to land, health care, or education. Sometimes, these measures are provided to victims’ family members, often children, in recognition that providing them with a better future is an important way to overcome the enduring consequences of the violations.
Reparations can be implemented through administrative programs or enforced as the outcome of litigation. Oftentimes, they overlap and compete for state resources with programs against poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to resources, like land. In these situations, reparations should be designed and implemented in ways that can transform previously unequal and unjust relations.
Reparations can also take the form of revealing the truth about the violations themselves and providing guarantees that they will not be repeated. Symbolic reparations – such as apologies, memorials, and commemorations – can be just as beneficial, healing, and meaningful as material reparations.
Different victims will have different needs, and those needs can change over time. While families of the forcibly disappeared, for example, will require some of the same forms of material reparations that other victims need, there may benefit from legal and personal measures specifically aimed at repairing the consequences of enforced disappearance.
The type of reparation needed can also vary according to the victim’s economic or social class, gender, age, and identity. Women, for example, experience violations in significantly different ways than men, and their experiences should not be limited to the consequences of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence. Many women victims of human rights abuses already carry the economic and social burdens of meeting their families’ needs. Women are not just the wives, widows, mothers, sisters, or daughters of victims; they are also victims themselves because women also play active political, economic, and social roles. Reparations policies and programs must therefore take gender and gender relations into account.
It is therefore important that victims participate in the process of designing and implementing reparations policies.
In many countries, transitional justice processes have provided reparations for not only individuals but also groups, communities, and even regions. Such collective reparations can address the causes and consequences of violations that affect people from the same region or community or who share the same identity or experiences of violations. Still, urgent forms of individual reparations might intersect with humanitarian relief programs, and the design and delivery of collective reparations may intersect with development programs. Such overlap is inevitable because many of those who are vulnerable to human rights violations are also the most economically and socially vulnerable in society.
Reparations need to respond to victims’ rights and address the ongoing needs of victims resulting from those violations. Reparations should be based on a process of listening to victims, acknowledging wrongdoing, and recognizing the consequences of the violations committed. If measures are to be effective and able to address the worst consequences of the violations, the participation of victims and victims’ groups in the design and implementation of reparations is critical.
ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program helps victims to articulate their needs and identify the most meaningful forms of reparations for them and provides advice to policymakers on the practical, legal, financial, and procedural challenges involved in designing and implementing reparations programs. Alongside victims, we engage with different stakeholders, including national and international policymakers, donors, development actors, and other human rights organizations to help them to understand the importance of reparations in addressing the consequences of massive human rights violations. We also emphasize that reparations programs can be created on their own; they do not necessarily need to follow the establishment of a truth commission or prosecutions.
ICTJ works to encourage societies to consider the different ways reparations, humanitarian assistance, and development can interact to provide a degree of justice. Humanitarian assistance as an immediate response to alleviate the consequences of violations are welcome, they are insufficient. They do not respond to victims as right bearers, nor do they recognize that violations were committed. Likewise, although development policies can ameliorate victims’ suffering and address historical marginalization, they will not have a reparative affect unless adequate acknowledgment and symbolic measures are added.
We encourage societies to use approaches that are grounded in the language, culture, and history of the country and the victim populations. Importantly, reparation measures cannot rely only on compensation, but should include forms of rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition, combining measures that are symbolic, material, individual, and collective, depending on circumstances and victim preferences.
Given limited resources and differing needs of victims, effective reparations programs should prioritize those who suffered the most or have the most immediate need for relief.
"Even today, when I pass by the college, I feel suffocated. I was deprived of my right. Why? Only because I covered my hair?" – Ines, victim of religious discrimination in Tunisia
Our work in different countries has helped to establish programs that recognize the right of victims to reparations that are relevant to their needs and contexts. Through comparative and field-based research and reporting, we have developed a body of knowledge not only about reparations in general, but about its many dimensions, including collective reparations, apologies, and links to poverty.
Cambodia We assisted the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, established to prosecute former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, to draft and revise the regulations that now govern court-ordered reparations in its cases.
Colombia: We supported the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC), as part of a working group, to include reparations in the Victims’ Agreement, a section of the final peace agreement. In collaboration with CODHES, a civil society organization that works on human rights for internally displaced persons, we also started the Collective Reparations Observatory.
Côte d’Ivoire: We advised government bodies responsible for administering reparations programs for victims of the election violence of 2010–2011. Specifically, we advised the National Social Cohesion Program, the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Victims Compensation, and the National Commission for the Reconciliation and Compensation of Victims on how to define reparations based on effective consultations with victims, register victims, combine existing databases, and reach victims previously excluded (especially from more remote areas). Our consultation and dialogue process with victims in marginalized areas ensured that their views were considered by relevant state agencies. We also helped those organizations, including women’s groups, to monitor the registration process and provide insights into its shortcomings.
Kenya: We assisted the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), which was set up in the aftermath of the post-election violence of 2007–2008, to design a matrix of reparations measures that could be implemented by the state. These covered the broad range of human rights violations within the TJRC mandate, including economic and social rights violations, violations involving land, and historic injustices. We helped government agencies and officials involved in designing reparations programs to identify and overcome their capacity gaps, outline the budgets and resources they required, and describe the legislation or administrative regulations needed. Finally, we supported women’s groups to provide reparations policy proposals to state agencies for incorporation into official policies.
Nepal: We helped to inform the government that the post-civil war relief programs for victims must provide justice for women, including wives of the forcibly disappeared, and that reparations measures must go beyond compensation and meeting victims’ immediate needs, to include long-term programs. We also produced Nepali-language reparations information kits on relevant complex bills and government procedures.
Peru: To address the legacy of the long-running internal armed conflict, we worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, state actors, civil society, and victims’ groups. The commission adopted our recommendations to define reparations, consult victims and civil society groups, and adopt a comprehensive approach that included individual and collective victims. Those recommendations were later passed into law and several have since been implemented. We tested and submitted proposals that the government later adopted around increasing the symbolic reparative component of collective reparations and on the participation of women. Aided by our lobbying, the government began implementing a compensation program and other forms of reparations that, although included in their reparations law, had been left unaddressed. We also worked with different civil society and victims’ groups, including from the most affected regions, and helped them to create a common platform from which victims could make proposals to the TRC and the government on how to define and implement reparations programs.
The Philippines: Aided by many years of active engagement by ICTJ, legislation was passed that granted reparations and recognition to victims of human rights violations committed during the Marcos dictatorship. We also advised a joint commission of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on approaches to transitional justice that the state should adopt as part of implementing the peace process, including on reparations for victims of violations, marginalization, and historic grievances.
Sierra Leone: Our advice helped to improve the accessibility of the reparations registration process for victims of the civil war. We advised on how to staff and schedule the interview and statement-taking process, to ensure that more victims in rural and hard-to-reach areas of the country could register.
South Africa: With our technical support, we helped the largest apartheid survivors’ group in South Africa to challenge the government’s limited post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission reparations policies.
Sudan: In relation to the conflict in Darfur, we analyzed the extent to which the right to reparations of victims has been incorporated into the different attempts to create a peace agreement. We used our presence in negotiations to disseminate our findings to relevant stakeholders.
Timor-Leste: We worked with parliamentarians to enact legislation to implement the reparations recommendations of the two truth commissions (the Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation and the Commission on Truth and Friendship) that were established to investigate abuses that occurred during the Indonesian occupation.
Tunisia: After the overthrow of President Ben Ali in 2011, we assisted government agencies and officials to design reparations policies that would be effective and relevant to the needs of victims of the dictatorship.
Uganda: In response to long-running civil conflict, particularly in the north, we provided relevant state agencies with critical information about the reparative needs of victims, and helped to identify capacity gaps and resources that would be required to design and implement effective reparations programs. We supported civil society organizations, especially women’s organizations, to provide reparations policy proposals to submit to state authorities.
“They [ICTJ] have been able to demystify certain transitional justice concepts … what reparations actually means and how you organize for them. They were able to bring people from countries where they had supported reparations interventions to advise on Kenya’s unique context.” --Kenya Government official