Reparations and Development: Making the links for gender transformative justice post-conflict

Reparations: The transformative potential for gender justice

Reparations, a recognized right in international law, is also the most directly victim-centred of justice tools available to countries recovering from conflict. In seeking to recognize and address the harms suffered by victims of gross human rights violations, reparations programmes hold the potential to deliver redress, acknowledgement as well as the material resources necessary to recover from past harms.

In recent years there have been calls from numerous quarters, including the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, that reparations must have a transformative impact on the lives of women, who are often the most marginalized of victims and who as a result of pre-existing inequalities endure specific impacts from violations perpetrated against them. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, noted in her 2010 report dedicated to reparations that:

“Women often bear the brunt of the consequences of violence that targets them, their partners and dependants. … Since violence perpetrated against individual women generally feeds into patterns of pre-existing and often cross-cutting structural subordination and systemic marginalization, measures of redress need to link individual reparation and structural transformation.”

Despite the transformative potential of reparations as well as the importance placed on them by victims themselves, in particular women, reparations programmes remain the least implemented and funded of justice mechanisms. Where implemented, they are often done in a limited, piece meal and ad hoc way, with little lasting or transformative impact.

In the context of limited resources, mass violations and widespread poverty that characterizes many of the countries emerging from conflict, there is clearly a need for new approaches aimed at fulfilling the potential of reparations to have a sustainable and transformative impact.  Consolidating links and coordination between reparations and development programmes, strategies and actors is one concrete means through which the transformative and sustainable justice sought through reparations could be realized.

UN Women/ UNDP initiative to strengthen reparations programmes

In December 2010, UNIFEM (now UN Women) and UNDP co-hosted an international workshop on Reparations, Development and Gender in Kampala, Uganda as part of their joint Global Programme on Women’s Access to Justice Post-Conflict. The meeting brought together practitioners from a range of countries with key reparations, transitional justice and development experts.  The goal of the meeting was to look at the way in which development and development practitioners can contribute to strengthening victims’ rights to comprehensive and gender-just reparations.

What emerged clearly from the conference is that while development programmes cannot substitute a State’s international legal obligation to provide comprehensive reparations, development practitioners can assist governments to fulfill these obligations as well as coordinate with national reparations programmes in order to strengthen their impact. Development actors are in a good position to illustrate that reparation programmes are not only about fulfilling international obligations, but also about rebuilding trust in institutions and the state as well as among citizens themselves, and furthering effective service delivery to an important and vocal constituency at home.

Linking reparations and development

There are a range of ways in which the engagement of development practitioners in transitional justice contexts can strengthen reparations programmes generally and gender just outcomes specifically. Examples include:

  • Linking reparations with targeted development programmes can ensure that individual reparations do not create new sources of conflict but are offset by broader community benefits. 
  • An integrated approach to the design of reparations policies and programmes in coordination with efforts for economic recovery for affected communities could assist programming issues, resource mobilization and impact. Assistance provided to a targeted group of beneficiaries could be further strengthened through other support mechanisms such as micro-financing, livelihoods options, access to education, free legal aid services, etc. which can aim specifically to empower women within these communities and as primary beneficiaries of reparations
  • Emergency assistance - Providing urgent victim assistance as an interim measure while comprehensive reparations programmes are being designed and implemented.
  • Facilitating access to new sources of funding – for example in Ghana, the government included an application for support to their reparations programme as part of their application for HIPC funds (highly indebted poor country), in Sierra Leone, the PBF provided $3m to set up the initial infrastructure and first phase of that country’s reparations programme
  • Capitalizing on existing development assistance - Using development practitioners to build state capacity to register victims, carry out consultations with an emphasis on women’s participation, and administer benefits – the hospitals needed to deliver fistula surgery or free maternal health care as part of a reparations programme are the same hospitals that development programmes must rebuild in the wake of conflict.
  • Development planning instruments such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers regularly include DDR and SSR support – programmes which disproportionately benefit former male combatants, but make no mention of reparations. An effective way to ensure an equal treatment of victims and within this of women, is to incorporate reparations programmes into national development strategies, addressing issues of national ownership, coordination and resources at the same time.

Nahla Valji is Programme Specialist for Rule of Law and Transitional Justice at UN Women. She is Managing Editor of the International Journal of Transitional Justice. Prior to joining the UN, Nahla was Senior Project Manager in the Transitional Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa.

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