Overview by Isabella Banks, Research Associate PILPG NL
This side event explored how States Parties can best support reparative justice for victims of crimes under the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction.
The Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) plays an important complementary role in assisting victims of perpetrators who cannot afford to pay reparations and is currently in the process of expanding to new situation countries.
However, the TFV lacks a stable source of funding and therefore depends on voluntary contributions from the States Parties to sustain its work.
Co-sponsored by Ireland, Uganda, Mali, Finland, and the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), this side event explored how States Parties can best support reparative justice for victims of crimes under the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction. Ambassador of Ireland Kevin Kelly opened the event and explained that it was a product of a partnership between Ireland and Uganda and a TFV monitoring visit they coordinated together in 2017.
In her role as moderator, Ambassador of Chile María Teresa de Jesus Infante Caffi introduced reparative justice as a concept that goes beyond compensation. She addressed the emerging debate about the Court’s ability to grant reparations through the Fund and invited remarks from the speakers, who included representatives from Mali, Ireland, Uganda, and the TFV.
Minister of Justice of Mali, Tiénan Coulibaly began by expressing his country’s support for the TVF and the complementary role it plays in assisting victims of perpetrators who cannot afford to pay reparations. He emphasized the Fund’s need for resources and highlighted Mali’s voluntary contribution of 20,000 euros in 2017.
Mr. Coulibaly then introduced “Trust Fund for Victims Monitoring Visit to Northern Uganda,” a short documentary produced by the TFV and funded by Ireland. The purpose of the visit featured in the film was twofold: to increase awareness of the importance of victims in the Court’s work and to reflect on what States Parties can do to assist the TFV. Nine States Parties and the President of the ICC Chile were invited to the participate in the visit.
In partnership with Gulu hospital and the AVSI Foundation, the TFV provides artificial limbs, reconstructive surgery, trauma counseling, and mental health support to victims of war and gender-based violence in northern Uganda. The speakers collectively drew attention to the heavy stigma that is attached to sexual violence and mental health issues in Uganda. Few organizations have the capacity to provide the kind of long-term psychosomatic counseling the TFV provides to traumatized victims and their families.
Attorney General of Ireland Seamus Woulfe reported that the delegation that participated in the monitoring visit was very positive about the work of the Fund but left Uganda with the impression that many needs remained unmet. Mr. Woulfe stated that such needs will ultimately need to be addressed by local and national authorities through voluntary contributions to the Fund. He announced that Ireland would be contributing 175,000 euros that day.
Ambassador of Uganda Mirjam Blaak then took the floor to draw attention to the situation on the ground. She noted that almost no one in Northern Uganda has not been affected by the crimes perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and that some victims may never overcome what they have seen or been forced to do. She highlighted the International Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda and its efforts to hold LRA leaders accountable on a domestic level in the aftermath of failed peace negotiations. Given the broad area affected by LRA crimes, Uganda’s efforts at reparative justice have focused on regional development and investment in agriculture rather than individual reparations. Uganda is also currently in the process of drafting a traditional justice bill to promote grassroots reconciliation through the Acholi ritual of mato oput.
Despite these efforts, Ambassador Blaak acknowledged that Uganda was “primitive” with respect to mental health, and that the state must do more to make psychosomatic counseling widely available.
TFV Board Member Mama Koité Doumbia and concluded the panel with a reflection on the Fund’s work. She noted that the Fund was intended to fill a void in justice and specifically, to fulfill its dual mandate to provide assistance and reparations to victims of international crimes. According to Ms. Doumbia, the Fund’s primary issue is its dependence on fluctuating, voluntary contributions of States Parties to empower, rehabilitate, and restore dignity to victims. The Fund’s lack of an annual budget is increasingly challenging as it expands its work to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Mali in the next year.
The first question from the audience was whether the Fund has a plan of action to work with victims in Kenya. Ms. Boumbia replied that the TFV now has an office for Kenya in Uganda and that just a few days ago, 300,000 euros were made available to work with victims in Kenya. She further explained that their work in Kenya had been stalled due to changing priorities but that they were now in the process of assessing the situation on the ground to ensure that the aid the Fund provided would not be duplicative.
A Swedish legal advisor then asked about the extent to which the Fund’s efforts were sustainable. Ms. Boumbia agreed that providing “handouts” was unsustainable, but stated that the Fund’s first priority was to provide victims with stable infrastructure. She also noted that the Fund was working to pass on some of their more supported project to government institutions.
A representative from Redress then raised concern about the Fund’s ability to carry out its mandate to provide reparations, especially given its recent expansion, in spite of the denial of its recent request for a budget increase. Addressing Ambassador Blaak, she asked if the Fund had considered possible overlaps between development initiatives and the reparations needs of Ugandan victims? She provided the example of women who had children in the bush not being able to access education from a newly-built school because they did not have the required birth certificate with their child’s father’s name on it.
Ambassador Blaak acknowledged that many of the women who were kidnapped by members of the LRA had not been accepted back into their communities. She noted that the stigma against these women was so severe that during the peace talks, some women chose to return to the LRA. She remarked “we have lost one whole generation…it’s very hard to overcome” and agreed with the Redress representative that it was important to consider how development initiatives might be affected by this reality. She also made a hopeful reference to the transitional justice bill that is currently being prepared in Uganda.
Ambassador Jesus Infante Caffi concluded the event with a call for a coordinated and coherent approach to reparative justice and explained that the delegation had also made this recommendation to the Minister of Justice in Kampala.