Reparations through different lenses: the culture, rights and politics of healing and empowerment after mass atrocities
Hugo van der Merwe Reparations are a primary justice concern for most impoverished victims.1 Some have called reparations the “most victim centered of the various transitional justice mechanisms” (Robins 2011b: 6). Not addressing these concerns head-on results in other justice processes becoming delegitimized. Providing reparations is however a process that is complicated by the context within which it needs to occur, particularly when there are many victims and the country is impoverished. In a context of mass violations, it becomes difficult to make sense of the range of needs, rights and demands for reparations that emerge from victims who have suffered a range of abuses. These calls for reparative intervention make different moral, political and rights claims that can seem overwhelming and difficult to juggle and prioritize. Which abuses are the most important to respond to? Which victims are most worthy of assistance? To make sense of these competing demands, this chapter unpacks reparations claims through three lenses: needs, rights and politics. Each provides a different logic for prioritization of reparative measures. The chapter then examines how reparations advocacy processes engage with these lenses to bolster claims (and hopefully build democracy) in a post-authoritarian context. The chapter uses the policies and victim advocacy process in South Africa to illustrate the various approaches and tensions.