Victims of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga are entitled to reparations. This was ordered by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday.
Lubanga was sentenced last month to 14 years in prison for recruiting children to his rebel army, the Union of Congolese Patriots. This is the first time The Hague court has ordered reparations for victims in the context of a case.
In a press release, the ICC said that proposals for reparations will be collected by the Trust Fund for Victims and will be presented to the ICC Trial Chamber for approval. The fund was set up under the Rome Statute in 2002 as a way to benefit victims of crimes and their families within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Who are the victims?
The ICC defines potential reparations beneficiaries as: "direct and indirect victims who suffered harm following the crimes of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 in Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003. This includes the family members of direct victims, along with individuals who intervened to help the victims or to prevent the commission of these crimes".
The number of people entitled to receive compensation is still unclear. According to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) executive director Pieter de Baan, that number could be in the thousands. The budget for reparations will be determined after thorough on location research. "Together with the TFV, a team of experts will consult with victims and their communities on how the reparations can be implemented," De Baan told RNW.
Hopes of former child soldiers
According to the ICC press release, forms of reparations by the TFV may include the following: "campaigns to improve the position of victims; issuing certificates that acknowledge the harm they suffered; and outreach and promotional activities, along with educational programmes, which provide information and are directed at reducing the stigmatization and marginalization of the victims, avoiding discrimination of any kind". These programmes may well be carried out by local NGOs.
Before the Lubanga verdict was announced, Goma-based RNW correspondent Mélanie Gouby spoke to some of the warlord's victims. Her findings made it clear that in the decade since the Second Congo War ended, former soldiers have matured, but so have their real-life needs.
One former soldier Gouby interviewed said he hoped for money to boost his business. "I own a small grocery store in town," 24-year-old Guillan was quoted as saying. "But that is just me; we all have different desires." The same youth expressed scepticism about current rehabilitation programmes that aim to adapt former soldiers to a normal social environment and reintegrate them into communities. "I don't have time to go to meetings where we sing stupid songs," he said, referring to one of the increasingly age-inappropriate pastimes at such reintegration sessions.
Involving the locals
In any event, Guillan and his fellow child soldiers can count on more than symbolic gestures: consultations with victims may in fact result in programmes that help people set up businesses. According to De Baan, however, cash will never literally be put in their hands. "We don't have enough money for that," explains the fund director. "Plus, it could have a stigmatizing effect. Some victims are seen as offenders. People would look askance at them if they receive money."
De Baan specifies that the TFV's team will now look into reparation implementation in the region by involving local communities and their leaders, paying special attention to vulnerable groups such as child and female victims. In the meantime, the fund will explore how their finances can be supplemented . Alongside their fixed contributions to the ICC, countries can donate to the fund.
Last year, the Netherlands donated a quarter of a million euros to the fund. The TFV is discussing possible future donations with a number of African countries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not presently a donor but, according to De Baan, good cooperation between the fund and the country involved in a compensation case is a prerequisite for successful reparations measures.