The centrality of victims

As a country emerging out of a 30-year ethnic conflict, our primary objective is to achieve progress and development within an environment of sustainable peace. Our dream as a nation is to never fall back into a violent and brutal state of war as before. There are several challenges to this dream of peace. They are, the continued marginalization and suffering felt by victims and growing ethnic insecurities that have even led to generational grudges and mistrust between communities. The only way to resolve these challenges is by ensuring the safety and well-being of those who suffered the terrible consequences of war

The importance of reparations cannot be understood in isolation to its contextual background.

As a country emerging out of a 30-year ethnic conflict, our primary objective is to achieve progress and development within an environment of sustainable peace. Our dream as a nation is to never fall back into a violent and brutal state of war as before. There are several challenges to this dream of peace. They are, the continued marginalization and suffering felt by victims and growing ethnic insecurities that have even led to generational grudges and mistrust between communities.

The only way to resolve these challenges is by ensuring the safety and well-being of those who suffered the terrible consequences of war. By showing via reparative actions- you are safe, and you are equal. For this, repairing the damages victims faced, restoring their lives back to normalcy, and rebuilding what was once lost in war and conflict, is vital. Suffering and marginalization are experienced as well as exacerbated by unhappy communities. Ensuring lasting peace means to focus and heal such communities.

Reparations in this regard are not merely a policy obligation, but a form of support that deals with the needs of real people facing real problems. Victims must be at the centre of reparations.

Colombia is a country that successfully incorporated the principle of the “Centrality of Victims.” The reparations mechanism in Colombia was able to heal their society from the crimes and violations of the past by following two guidelines.

A broad and inclusive definition of a victim

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, to define the term “victim” is to accept the occurrence of injustice by a perpetrator. It is legitimizing the suffering of an individual/ group and telling them “we accept that you are a victim and that you have been wronged.” Sometimes, all victims ask for is to be recognized. Their pain is heightened when it is publicly disregarded and acknowledgement on the part of the state in itself is a relief.

Secondly, broad and inclusive definitions leave categories of victimhood open. This allows more victims to access reparations granted by the state and reduces the chance of marginalization and systematic exclusion of victim groups. This disallows bitterness and insecurities to harbour in a society.

To do this, Colombia used the definition provided by the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines to define victims, especially as their domestic legal system was ambiguous on the matter. Victims were not determined by their identity but by the nature of the violation they suffered. This is an important lesson for Sri Lanka. Especially in a multicultural nation like ours, victimhood should not be a point of division. Instead, reparations must consider victims from all communities equally.

The principle of good faith

Through this, every victim in Colombia is believed at first; and the Commission must prove their testimony through contextual and legal analysis. The principle of good faith does not allow victims to be rejected and humiliated. Their grievances are heard in good faith and supported by the Commission. Here victims’ testimonies were the primary source of evidence of human rights violations and public officials were even trained to adopt a gendered lens when dealing with victims of sexual or gender-based violence. Offices provided psychosocial support when hearing testimonies to prevent re-victimization.

These examples are vital lessons for Sri Lanka on how to approach potential victims when granting reparations. Many times, victims such as disabled persons, widows, children etc. are doubly marginalized by society. Other victims such as indigenous populations or estate workers may not even be recognized as victims at all. It is important to understand the circumstances of victims and give them space and voice to speak up for themselves and to receive the support they so desperately need.

Adopting the right definition of a victim prevents unfair exclusion and marginalization of victim groups. It grants victims legitimized access to reparation programmes and the principle of good faith can help in building victims’ trust in transitional justice and reconciliation mechanisms implemented by the state.

However, shifting the focus of reparations from the victim towards political interests and biases by any government is irresponsible at the least and abusive at worst. Reparations are vital to rebuild and restore victims’ lives as well as their faith in the system and in a harmonious future. They will be the backbone of a stable and peaceful nation and healing their pain will be the only means of breaking the cycle of violence. If Colombia can do it, so can we. 



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