Thursday, October 14, 2010
Justice for the victims
A friend just told me she did a Google search on women’s empowerment and gender justice and found this video of me. It was a surprise, since I’d forgotten about the interview at the ICC Review Conference and didn’t know that it had been posted online. It was one of those moments when without warning a camera is suddenly in your face and a microphone clipped to your shirt, you have no idea what you’ll be asked and you were already thinking about lunch—not being interviewed--and then as soon as the camera is pointed somewhere else you think of all the things you wanted to say—in fact, all the things you’ve been saying to anyone that would listen and finally you have a possibly wider audience and you didn’t say any of them! And then you have a pretend interview in your mind. (you all do this right? Tell me it’s not just me.)
My pretend interview begins after he asks me what the victims that I interact with in my research are asking from the Court:
Interviewer: What are they asking from the Court?
Interviewer: Really? I would have thought that they would have many demands on justice, and critiques about how the ICC is addressing their needs. Why aren’t they asking anything from the Court?
Me: There are a number of things that they might ask from the Court, but because they have no idea that they are entitled to anything, or how they might access it, they aren’t.
Interviewer: If they were more informed, what do you think they would ask from the Court?
Me: Victims are so often evoked as the ultimate benefactors of the ICC—it’s always “justice for the victims” but in reality very little of the Court’s work seems to prioritize them. They would probably ask that aspects of the Court that were intended to be to their benefit be given more priority, such as the Public Outreach program, and Victim’s Participation. Perhaps most importantly, because their primary concerns are often material, they would ask that reparations and the Victims Trust Fund be used to their benefit.
Interviewer: Isn’t the Trust Fund supporting victims of rape now? I saw there was a presentation by a project they’re supporting on gender-based violence run by Coopi (an NGO).
Me: Yes, they’re supporting a great project on preventing and responding to gender-based violence with Coopi, but tragically, not one victim of rape that is a war crime or crime against humanity has ever benefited from that project. I talked to the manager of the project about this. The violence they respond to is domestic violence or cases of defilement (sex with a minor) or in rare instances, rape. The perpetrators of the crimes are teachers, farmers, husbands—but she admitted that none of them are soldiers or rebels. It seems like they are doing good work, and deserve to be funded—by someone. But not the ICC. The Trust Fund for Victim’s is meant for the victims of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court--not one of the women benefitting from the Trust Fund’s support to Coopi is a victim of a crime in the Court’s mandate, while many of the women I work with are within the Court’s mandate, they are in deplorable situations and are given no assistance.
Interviewer: One could argue that actually, their choice to fund a more general Gender-Based Violence project indicates a progressive understanding of how violence in conflict affects women--that they recognize the linkages between violence in war and the heightened level of violence against women in the domestic sphere. How would you respond to that?
Me: Part of what I’m doing in my own research is highlighting the links between war related violence and ordinary violence and how it effects women. But what the Fund is supporting right now is not evidence of an expanded definition; it is rather focusing funding in the wrong place. If the Fund was already assisting all the women that were direct victims of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court, and they had resources to expand assistance along with their expanded definition of “victim” or if they were at least funding a project that assisted victims of rape in general but included victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court—that would be better. The Trust Fund has defined what “victim” means for them—a victim of a crime that falls within the jurisdiction of the court, those crimes that are detailed in the Rome Statute and were committed after July 2002, but in practice that definition is not applied to their decisions regarding funding—at least in the situation of victims of rape in northern Uganda.
Interviewer: That’s odd. Why have they chosen to designate funds for women who fall outside their mandate while there are so many women who fall within it that are being neglected?
Me: It’s a good question. I asked it to the head of the Victim’s Trust Fund in Uganda. I suggested to him, that there might be value in focusing their funds on projects designed to respond to specific harm that was suffered as a result of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court. This is what they have done by providing plastic surgery for victims of mutilation. Why not apply the same principles to victims of rape? I mentioned a few examples of women in my research who would fit into the category of “within the jurisdiction of the court” and what kind of assistance would be meaningful to them. His answer revealed some level of identity confusion. He said that the Fund is sort of a “donor of last resort.”
Interviewer: A donor of last resort? That sounds like it should be the role of someone else, perhaps a UN agency, the EU, DFID, USAID or other donor countries and agencies, not like the International Criminal Court or the Victims’ Trust Fund. Besides, aren’t there many projects on Gender Based Violence in northern Uganda that receive regular funding from other sources?
Me: You’re right on both accounts. Seeing their role as a “donor of last resort” rather than the providers of reparation for the worst crimes of humanity undermines the overall potential benefits of a system of international justice that the court is trying to realize. For them to be successful there must be more direct links between the crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court and the court’s role in retribution AND reparation for those crimes. There are lots of donors supporting projects including responses to gender based violence in northern Uganda. The Trust fund loses all significance when it becomes just another donor. Its contribution must be unique if it is going to be meaningful and if the justice of the ICC is going to have a right to make claims their justice is “for the victims.”
*It might seem like I’m confusing reparations, and the more general work of the Trust Fund. The ICC has never done reparations, and the first will occur after the first conviction. Actually, I think it is the very specific nature of what at this point, it looks like is going to count as formal reparation (successful decisions in requests for restitution, compensation and rehabilitation of crimes that an accused person has been convicted of) which make the general work of the Fund so important. Because the scope of reparation is so specific, victims that, in my mind, should be entitled to reparations wouldn’t benefit unless they are assisted under the more general work of the Trust Fund. So, for example, the victims of the crimes in Raska Lukwiya’s arrest warrant are now out of luck since he’s dead and will never be tried or convicted. Or the decision not to include any crimes involving sexual violence in Lubanga’s final warrant means that all the victims of those crimes would not be entitled to reparations even if he’s ever convicted of recruitment and use of child soldiers. This is grossly unfair. It seems equally unfair that the byproduct of linking criminal conviction to victim’s entitlement to reparations is that being “defined” as a victim in this instance has the same burdens of proof, etc. as criminal conviction. But anyway, I digress and this is the topic for another pretend interview or blog.