Reparations are meant to acknowledge and repair the causes and consequences of human rights violations and inequality in countries emerging from dictatorship, armed conflict, and political violence, as well as in societies dealing with racial injustice and legacies of colonization. ICTJ’s provides comparative knowledge and practical lessons learned from designing and implementing reparations programs, particularly in the global South.

A wall with names carved into the stone, a memorial for the detained, disappeared, and executed in Santiago, Chile

All victims of human rights violations have a right to reparation. Different victims have different needs, and those needs can change over time. The type of reparation required can also vary according to the victim’s economic class, gender, age, and social identity. Women, for example, experience violations in significantly different ways than men, and their experiences should not be limited to sexual or gender-based violence and its consequences. Landless communities will have reparative needs different from displaced urban families. 

States that commit or fail to prevent violations, as well as non-state entities, including individuals, institutions, corporations, and armed groups that perpetrate or are complicit in those violations, have a legal obligation to provide reparations. 

It is important to remember that compensation—or the payment of money—is only one of many different types of material reparations. Other types include the restitution of civil and political rights; physical rehabilitation; and granting access to land, housing, health care, or education. 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—are other important reparative measures that can be more meaningful when conferred alongside material reparations.

Reparations can be implemented through administrative programs or enforced as the result of litigation. In many countries, transitional justice processes have provided reparations to groups, communities, and even regions. The design and delivery of collective reparations may intersect with development programs, while urgent forms of individual reparations might intersect with humanitarian relief programs. These overlaps are inevitable because those who are the most vulnerable to human rights violations also suffer most from social and economic inequality. Reparations should be designed and implemented in ways that can transform these unequal and unjust conditions. Most victims see reparations as the most direct and meaningful way to obtain justice. Yet, reparations are “rarely prioritized” and are often the least-funded measure of transitional justice.

ICTJ’s Approach

ICTJ emphasizes the role of victims in both the process and outcome of designing and implementing reparations programs. ICTJ helps victims articulate their needs and identify the most meaningful forms of reparations for them. We provide 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 consider reparations with the same level of priority as truth seeking and individual criminal accountability in a country’s pursuit of transitional justice. 

We also emphasize that reparations programs can be created on their own and can even catalyze truth-seeking and criminal justice measures. Delivering reparations to victims does not need to wait for the recommendations of a truth commission or be tied to criminal prosecutions or litigation. In working on judicial reparations, ICTJ has encouraged international criminal tribunals to learn from non-judicial experiences and has supported victims in global North courts in making their claims for reparations, including claims against corporations complicit in human rights violations. 

Aside from victims’ groups, ICTJ works with different transitional justice processes, state institutions, and non-state organizations to find ways to meet victims’ needs and implement reparations programs. We provide advice to truth commissions, support institutions implementing reparations, and engage with state agencies helping provide funding and build capacity for reparations. 

Our work has also broadened the scope of what should be repaired, by addressing violations of economic and social rights, linking accountability for corruption with reparations, and supporting measures that tackle economic and social marginalization. We encourage societies to use approaches that are grounded in the language, culture, and history of the country and the communities of those victimized by dictatorship, war, colonization, racial injustice, and social or political violence.