‘Repairing the Past? International Perspectives on Reparations for Gross Human Rights Abuses’, is a timely work which provides a comprehensive overview of the development of reparations, documenting the experiences of victim/ survivor groups in their attempts to secure justice for gross violations of human rights.
In their introductory chapter, entitled ‘Reparations for Gross Violations of Human Rights in Context’, Max du Plessis and Stephen Peté set out the history of mass killings of civilians and genocide that have taken place in the last century, beginning with the genocide of the Herero people in Namibia by the German Colonial forces and ending with the current genocide that is taking place in Darfur in Sudan. While international law has developed, leading to the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court, which was designed to hold those responsible for gross violations accountable, the international community has been unable to stop the ongoing violence and killing of civilians in Darfur, making a mockery of the notion that ‘it should never happen again’.
I believe that the most important components of transitional justice must be the rights of victims, which include the right to the truth, the right to acknowledgement, the right to reparations and the obligation to take steps to ensure that the violations will not occur again. In this way impunity will be addressed, provided that the structural causes of the conflict are comprehensively dealt with. Let us never forget that impunity gives rise to gross violations of human rights.
In theory, the right to reparation is an established right under international law with the earliest examples of reparation arising in the context of wrongs committed by states against states. However, the notion that individuals should be entitled to hold their own governments, corporations or other citizens accountable did not occur to those in power until after the end of the Second World War. The chapter on the history of the holocaust reparations written by Regula Ludi outlines the historical origins of individual reparation mechanisms. Ludi points out that the rights of individuals to redress for state crimes was first recognised in a legal document drafted at the Paris Reparation Conference of 1945. For victims and human rights advocates who had lobbied around this issue, this marked a turning point.