14 October 2016

Congo-Kinshasa: Reparations Plan for Lubanga Victims Takes Shape

The plan for making reparations to victims of Thomas Lubanga's use of hundreds of child soldiers in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo a decade and a half ago is nearing completion. The Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) will spend €1 million (US $1.1 million) over three years to support affected communities and individuals in eastern Congo.

However, the plan, which has taken four years to draw up, is not without challenges. The funds allocated for reparations are limited, and victims will not receive individual reparations, which many had expected. Moreover, continuing insecurity and the influence of Lubanga's party in Ituri district could deter victims from participating in the reparations program.

These challenges were the focus of discussions when the International Criminal Court (ICC) conducted its first ever reparations hearing this week. At the hearing on October 11 and 13, the TFV outlined the reparations plan, with judges, defense lawyers, victims' lawyers, and representatives of two non-governmental organizations asking questions and making suggestions. Lubanga, who is serving his 14-year jail sentence in Congo, had requested to follow the proceedings and address the court via a video link, but according to his lawyer, Catherine Mabille, judges declined his request.

The ICC does not have a set precedent regarding reparations, which is partly why consultations on the nature of reparations to victims of the 2002-2003 conflict have been long and windy. Since the August 2012 order on reparations, the prosecution, victims' lawyers, and the defense have filled several appeals against the decision. Among other things, the appeals sought clarity on the form reparations would take, and it was not until 2015 that the Appeals Chamber issued an amended order for reparations, tasking the TFV with drawing up and implementing the reparations program.

Lubanga, the first person tried by the ICC, was convicted in March 2012 for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Court rules provide that judges may order a convicted person to pay compensation to the victims of the crimes. However, since court found Lubanga indigent, the TFV will finance the reparations.

At this week's hearing, victims' lawyer Luc Walleyn said there was "a feeling of great despair" among victims, who were "extremely tired" of waiting. "The success of the court is directly associated with the success of the reparations, but this system is now out of order," he added. "The credibility of the court is at stake."

Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said an additional difficulty for the lengthy reparations program was that Lubanga has ceased being leader of the Union for Congolese Patriots (UPC) and several child soldiers have long since returned to civilian life. As such, it is a challenge to determine the kind of educational assistance or psychosocial support that could be appropriate for individuals that are no longer adolescents or child soldiers.

The TFV has drawn up a reparations plan that mostly relies on three pillars, as Executive Director Pieter de Baan explained to the court:

Symbolic collective reparations: Develop and construct commemorative structures at three centers and undertake mobile memorialization initiatives in five additional communities to create awareness of the crimes and promote reintegration and reconciliation. The TFV believes implementing symbolic reparations will pave the way for victims to come out and participate in the reparations plan without fear of reprisals. Moreover, collective reparations would create awareness and acknowledgment of the crimes committed and their effects on child soldiers, and reduce trauma and stigmatization of the former fighters.

Psychosocial support: The TFV will work with former child soldiers to understand their psychosocial needs and offer them support. "Although they are adults now they remain deeply affected by their experiences as children," said de Baan. Some have feelings of shame and neglect. The program will also offer psychosocial support to family members of child soldiers, "many of whom were forced to provide children to UPC."

Livelihood support: The life of all former child soldiers is characterized by having been deprived of a basic education, which puts them at significant social and economic disadvantage, and can lead them to criminal behavior. The vocational training will give former child soldiers skills to improve their lives. A survey will be conducted to understand the skills in demand and the services available, then the training program will be developed.

The TFV head explained that in drawing up the reparations plan, it held consultations in 22 localities in Ituri, which were attended by 1,100 community members. The Fund also consulted experts from up to 20 organizations, victims' lawyers, and the court's Registry. The TFV will not implement any projects on its own; rather, it will invite requests for proposals and offer financing to selected organizations to implement the awards.

But Brigid Inder, executive director of Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice, which made presentations at the hearing, suggested that the TFV commit more than €1 million to reparations, and that programs should be implemented over a five-year period, as opposed to the three years currently planned.

According to de Baan, the €1 million "is not cast in stone" and could change depending on availability of funds and Lubanga's financial liability, which is yet to be determined by judges.

Meanwhile, while victims' lawyer Joseph Keita deemed the three year implementation timeline is "sufficient," he agreed with Inder and de Baan that the Congolese government should play an active role in the reparations program. He stated that although there is no legal requirement for the Congo government to participate in reparations, its involvement would contribute to reconciliation in the affected communities. Inder had suggested that the Congolese government should contribute resources to the restitution and rehabilitation of victims given the state's failure to protect its citizens during the conflict.

Walleyn welcomed Lubanga's willingness to participate in the process, saying that it was a departure from his past stance to "discredit and undermine the credibility" of witnesses and victims participating in the trial. "We are happy Mr. Lubanga will accept the reality of children under 15 in UPC, that he assumes his personal responsibility and is able to contribute to the reparation process," said Walleyn.

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