Reparations during Transitional Justice

Transitional justice is a process that a country or people go through to move from a repressive regime to a better one, move from conflict and crisis to lasting peace, or secure the country’s future through the establishment of lasting peace and reconciliation after human rights violations. As a process, it is a form of justice that takes time and requires care.

There are many ways to achieve transitional justice, such as by prosecuting the perpetrators, granting amnesty when necessary, making the facts plain and detailed, etc. One or more of them can be implemented as the circumstance demands. Hence, one of the things that exists and is expected during transitional justice is the victims’ right to reparation.

Due to the war in northern Ethiopia, substantial human and material damage has been caused in the regions that were direct victims. Public service facilities, infrastructure, and individuals’ properties were looted and destroyed. Even animals have been intentionally killed, possibly the first time in the history of the world that animals have been intentionally killed in a conflict. Additionally; women were raped, families were separated, and many crimes were committed that are obscene to see and hear, showing a disconnect in the social fabric between people in the regions where the conflict took place. In addition, millions of citizens have been displaced from their homes and are forced to survive on aid by begging for help.

Many hoped that the Pretoria agreement between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, which was on a terrorist list, would bring about sustainable peace. In the meantime, the following questions remain: Will the TPLF and its leaders not be legally responsible for the material and human destruction they caused during the war? Shouldn’t they pay reparations to the victims? Shouldn’t the government rehabilitate citizens injured in war? What plan does the government have to compensate victims of war? Can there be lasting peace without helping injured citizens recover and get back to their lives?

According to international standards of transitional justice and the experiences of other countries, one of the conditions that must be met for the successful transitional justice process is enforcing the right to reparation of citizens affected by conflict. For example, the 2005 United Nations document states that citizens affected by conflict have the right to fair reparation, and Articles 64-66 of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy state that citizens who are victims of conflict are entitled to reparation.

At the beginning of the war in northern Ethiopia, the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Defense Forces was attacked. At that time, completely inhuman acts were committed against the army. Soldiers were slaughtered, and female soldiers were subjected to heinous acts like getting their breasts chopped off. Their families were killed, children were left without guardians, wives without husbands. Agreement made between the government and the TPLF without justice and reparation for the atrocities committed against members of the Defense Forces is ineffective.

After the war began, people were profiled and massacred based on their ethnic identity in Mykadra (where genocide is thought to have been committed), Chiena, Galikoma, and other places. It would be challenging to bring about lasting peace without holding the parties responsible for all the allegedly committed offenses, providing proper reparation for victims, and allowing them to return to their normal lives.

Although non-governmental bodies, individuals, groups, etc. may also participate in the process, the duty to make reparations to citizens is primarily the responsibility and obligation of the government. The government may not be able to compensate for all the damage done to the citizens, especially when there is great destruction, but the government has to show the public that it’s indeed working to make things right.

Although many things should be fulfilled in reparation, the following must be fulfilled. These reparations may include prosecution of offenders, cessation/assurance of non-repetition, restitution and repatriation, satisfaction, and rehabilitation.

First, an independent investigation should be conducted to determine the nature and extent of the damage. The findings of the inquiry should be presented and recognized as they are. If the findings reveal that the government’s failure is the reason for some damages and criminal acts, the government should acknowledge its fault and issue a public apology, for it is a psychological form of reparation. The government should also hold those responsible (officials) legally liable, as it is one form of compensation for the victims.

Citizens whose properties were destroyed should have them replaced or rebuilt. Simmilarly, others whose properties were stolen should have them returned, replaced or compensated. Those who were raped and abused must get justice, free medical services, and psycho-social support; while destroyed and damaged infrastructure should be rebuilt and repaired.

Public utilities such as water, electricity, and gas as well as health facilities and factories should be restored.

Religious institutions such as churches and mosques have been looted by TPLF soldiers and turned into arms caches, and damaged by attacks by heavy weapon. Priests were killed, monks were raped, and other obscene crimes against religious institutions were committed. Therefore, in the interest of reconciliation and lasting peace, religious institutions and followers should be publicly apologized to and appropriately compensated.

TPLF soldiers raided the Amhara and Afar regions, looting and destroying health facilities, schools, and others. Museums were also robbed. The government has the responsibility to take measures to locate all the stolen properties and return them to the two regions as a form of restitution.

Citizens displaced from their villages must be supported to return to their homes. Moreover, the government should not only make reparations to the victims but also guarantee that the crimes and abuses committed against them will not be repeated. Because transitional justice is the promise of “never again.”

Citizens who have suffered injuries should be provided with free or affordable medical services. Others who have suffered injuries due to the conflict, such as rape, loss of families, and related reasons, should be given free psycho-social support.

Citizens whose education was interrupted due to the conflict should be allowed to return to school for free.

Citizens affected by the conflict should be provided with job opportunities to cover the cost of their daily allowance to enable them to start earning a living.

Citizens who have suffered serious and permanent physical injuries should be admitted to a physical rehabilitation centre.

In addition to the regular annual budget, subsidies should also be provided to help the regions that have suffered heavily because of the war.

In the process of reparation, the government should support people in the different regions equally. Therefore, supporting one region and people preferentially will understandably create complaints and resentment instead of bringing lasting peace, which might  lead the country into another round of conflict, so the government should be cautious.

As international laws and practices show, when it comes to making reparation to citizens who have been injured in a conflict, parties involved in the conflict and who caused the damage can/should be made to participate in the process of compensating the injured parties. Hence, as the government works towards ensuring reconciliation and lasting peace, they must take into consideration that the TPLF also has to make reparation to the injured regions and citizens and participate in the rehabilitation process.

Despite what has been said, bringing the officials who are responsible for all the crimes and atrocities committed by the TPLF forces to justice is one of the most important ways to make reparation for the people and injured citizens. Because transitional justice cannot only be achieved only by providing material reparation to the victims but also by providing justice. Therefore, when it comes to transitional justice, the government must consider bringing TPLF officials to justice who are suspected of committing crimes under Ethiopian and international criminal laws.

If Ethiopia wants to go through a successful transitional justice process, the reconciliation of TPLF and the ruling Prosperity Party is not enough. The reconciliation of the two groups and the absence of gunfire in Amhara, Afar, and Tigray regions alone may not bring lasting peace. Instead, citizens across the nation should also be protected. Those who killed people in cold blood, destroyed property, and displaced people in Benishangul region should be brought to justice and the citizens who were harmed by them should be supported and returned to their homes.

The government should immediately stop the  displacement and death of citizens in the Oromia by the rebel group called OLA (Shene) and other organized individuals and group. Every year in North Shoa, a concerted attack is carried out on the people, and cities are destroyed like in the case of Ataye town and the surrounding area. Moreover, kidnapping of people in various places in East Shewa, killing them after receiving the ransom, eviction, ethnic cleansing, and other horrendous crimes are still taking place. In addition, interference by government bodies and other groups in religious institutions should be stopped completely to avert further damage that needs reparation.

The government of Ethiopia also has to make sure that leaders of the TPLF, who declared that they would not hesitate to go down to hell to dismember Ethiopia, be brought to justice. Hence, if it fails to do so under the pretext of bringing lasting peace and disregarding rule of law, lasting and sustainable peace cannot be achieved. In this respect, officials of Ethiopia, before letting allegedly suspected culprits escape, should consider fulfilling legal and other conditions like consultation with the people and the victims, as required by the AU transitional justice policy and other international laws.

Although in the current legal framework of Ethiopia there is no law governing the conditions for citizens who have been injured in a conflict to get appropriate reparation, in view of international law and practices, the government should help victims to the extent that the country’s capacity allows and coordinate with other bodies, to return them to their normal lives.

To go through a successful transitional justice process, the justice and reparation for the crimes committed by the TPLF leaders, its army and OLA (Shene), should be applied in the same way to the crimes committed and damages caused to the citizens in the Tigray region by the Ethiopian Defense Forces and other armed individuals and groups.


EBR 11th Year • April 2023 • No. 116

Author

  • Shimelash Wondale

    Bachelor's degree in law graduate from Bahir Dar University and master's degree graduate in international relations and diplomacy from Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at shiwondale@gmail.com.

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Author

  • Shimelash Wondale

    Bachelor's degree in law graduate from Bahir Dar University and master's degree graduate in international relations and diplomacy from Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at shiwondale@gmail.com.