Reparations seek to recognize and address the harms suffered by victims of systematic human rights violations. ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program provides knowledge and comparative experience on reparations to victims' groups, civil society and policymakers worldwide.

Santiago, Chile - Memorial for the detained, disappeared and executed (Louis Bickford)

States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them.

Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse.

Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

Types of Reparations

Reparations initiatives can be designed in many ways. They may include financial compensation to individuals or groups; guarantees of non-repetition; social services such as healthcare or education; and symbolic measures such as formal apologies or public commemorations.

Some examples:

  • From 1996 to 2008, the Chilean government paid more than $1.6 billion in pensions to certain victims of the Pinochet regime, and established a specialized health care program for survivors of violations. These were accompanied by an official apology from the President.
  • The Moroccan government is currently implementing both individual and community-based reparations for over 50 years of widespread abuse. These include funding for projects proposed by communities that were previously deliberately excluded from development programs for political reasons.
  • In 2010, the President of Sierra Leone formally apologized to women victims of his country’s 10-year armed conflict. This apology forms part of ongoing efforts to distribute modest compensation, rehabilitation and other benefits to eligible victims.
  • The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ordered symbolic and collective reparations in the court’s first conviction for crimes against humanity. The court ordered that the names of victims of a notorious prison be listed in the Court’s website, as well as the apologies issued by the convicted person.

If pursued without other justice measures, reparations initiatives have sometimes been criticized as attempting to buy victims’ silence.

ICTJ believes reparations initiatives that follow from meaningful consultation with victims have the best chance of being fair and effective. Linking reparations to other forms of recognition, justice and guarantees of non repetition—as recommended by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation—can also contribute to their effectiveness.

ICTJ’s Role

ICTJ plays a leading role in researching and advising reparations efforts.

  • ICTJ analyzes and evaluates past and ongoing reparations initiatives. We also research, analyze and report on factors related to victims’ needs, such as the impact of gender biases, poverty, displacement, corruption and ethnic tensions. Our 2009 briefing paper on The Right to Reparations in Situations of Poverty explores the challenges faced by reparations programs in post-conflict developing countries with widespread poverty.
  • We help truth-seeking bodies, courts and policymakers develop reparations policy and programs based on our knowledge of reparations initiatives worldwide. We have provided assistance to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) on ways to design judicial reparations for victims. We also helped the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission engage with victim’s organizations when defining its reparations recommendations.
  • We work with victims’ groups and civil society organizations to help them define their needs and priorities. In Nepal, we produce Nepali language information kits on complex bills and government procedures. In Liberia, we advised survivors of massacres in their effort to organize victims’ groups.
  • We share knowledge of comparative experiences with our local partners, and help them build networks and share lessons with their counterparts. In 2009, ICTJ and the Moroccan Advisory Council on Human Rights held a conference on collective reparations attended by victim advocates and government representatives from seven countries implementing reparations measures.