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What Reparations Do Ntaganda’s Victims Want?

Victims of Bosco Ntaganda’s crimes have given indications of the types of reparations that they would like to receive once International Criminal Court (ICC) judges issue a reparations order in the case of the former Congolese rebel leader.

According to Sarah Pellet, who represents former child soldiers participating as victims in the trial, the victims have consistently expressed preference for an individual element in the reparation. She noted that former child soldiers who were also victims of rape or sexual enslavement suffered harm of a particular intensity and asked judges to award them individual reparations in the form of a symbolic lump sum that they could use as they wish.

Pellet explained that victims of rape and sexual enslavement still suffer physical harm and wish to receive medical support. Most of them have also requested psychological assistance as they still feel traumatized and some need support to address drug and alcohol addictions.

The victims’ lawyer added that, assuming that 30 percent of the estimated 3,000 child soldiers who served in Ntaganda’s militia were subjected to sexual violence, the number of beneficiaries may still be manageable. She suggested that the beneficiaries of the individual awards should be identified at the stage of implementing the reparations.

Last year, ICC judges convicted Ntaganda on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, among them sexual slavery and rape, including of child soldiers who served within the militia group he commended. Judges have since appointed experts to advise on the nature and scope of the reparations. The experts’ report, together with submissions from the parties, will inform the reparations order that the judges will issue. Final submissions from the parties are due in mid-December this year.

The number of victims who will benefit from reparations in the Ntaganda case has not been determined yet. A total of 2,129 victims participated in his trial and have also been authorized to participate in his appeals against the conviction and sentence. The court’s Registry is conducting a mapping of potential new beneficiaries of reparations.

Pellet said that, although consultations were carried out with victims before she made the submissions to judges, budgetary constraints hindered her and the field-based colleague from travelling to Ituri to meet the victims. Instead, they conducted telephone interviews with a representative sample of the 283 victims they represent.

“They overwhelmingly expressed a preference for individual reparations, although they would also accept collective reparations with an individual component,” she said. The victims sought financial aid to return to their towns, rebuild their houses, and provide for their children.

According to the court’s rules, reparations can be individual for particular victims or collective to benefit a group, and the two may be awarded concurrently.

Dmytro Suprun, who represents a second group of victims, stated that they preferred individual but equal reparation awards. However, the victims also understood that their large number may present challenges in paying individual awards. “Therefore, the victims agree to being provided with collective reparations that have individualized features in form of health, psychosocial, and economic rehabilitation and support,” he said.

According to Suprun, the initiatives should cover psychological and medical support. They should also provide opportunities for development, including education and vocational training, assistance in creating farming or other types of cooperatives, support to business start–ups, micro credits, and other income-generating activities.

Suprun said: “A very large majority of the sampled victims see the possibility of accessing education as a necessary step for their reintegration into the community and to compensate for the major disruptions to their ‘project of life’ caused by their recruitment in the UPC/FPLC when they were children.”

Ntaganda was convicted for crimes he committed during 2002 and 2003 while he served as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) group whose overall head was Thomas Lubanga.

Lubanga was the first person convicted by the ICC, and judges ordered collective reparations to victims, namely psychological rehabilitation, physical rehabilitation, and socio-economic measures. In the Germain Katanga case, an individual symbolic compensation award of US$250 per victim was awarded, and four collective awards in the form of housing assistance, education assistance, income-generating activities, and psychological rehabilitation.

Pellet suggested that reparations in the Lubanga and Ntaganda cases should complement each other and jointly aim to restore, to the extent possible, the victims to the circumstances before the crimes were committed. This would avoid duplication and maximize benefits to the victims.

Furthemore, Pellet proposed that collective reparations should address the harm suffered by the former child soldiers and their relatives. They may include a service package that addresses the physical and psychosocial harm suffered, provides social care and education opportunities, and helps to restore family relations.