Reparations are a key mechanism to redress violations of international law. They are mostly conceived within state-like frameworks and related to measures administered by states. Yet, violence has increasingly shifted away from states to non-state actors such as armed groups. In a new Justice Visions podcast episode, we talk with Katharine Fortin (Netherlands Institute of Human Rights) and Luke Moffett (Queen’s University) about the need to broaden the conversation about engaging armed groups and encouraging them to remedy the harm they have caused.
Currently, around 60 to 80 million people are living under the control of armed groups. In their practices, armed groups are increasingly taking on public ‘semi-government’ functions, using the law and employing judicial processes. These practices pose new challenges and questions for the International Criminal Court, as Katharine argues: “Is armed group law, law? Are armed group courts, courts?” and if they are, “should the international community be asking armed groups to investigate if a particular violation has taken place?” Yet, within the human rights framework it is still controversial to engage with armed groups. Can we somehow hold them accountable through the mechanisms they employ, and broaden the conversation about how to deal with the violence and harm they cause?
These are crucial questions, as the existence of armed groups is part of the reality in many post-conflict societies. Using the example of Northern-Ireland, Luke points to the ongoing existence of armed groups, even 25 years after the peace process. In Northern Ireland about 13.000 people, amounting to one out of a hundred adults, are currently members of armed groups. Yet, Luke posits that armed actors could also be approached as potential community leaders and peace-builders, with a view to protecting civilians. “It comes down to how do people act and interact as victims, civil society and armed groups in these situations. Where in transitional justice we are often are looking at post-conflict cases and post-authoritarian governments, in these situations it’s protracted conflict, it’s re-emerging conflicts, fragile societies where there is real insecurity for victims to come out and speak out. How do we better protect and allow people to access some sort of remedy without causing disadvantages for them?”