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2014 | SJAC, Syria: Using Data, Documentation, and Evidence in Reparations Processes

This report on reparations by the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre gives an overview of what is needed to construct a well thought-out reparations program. It states that the purpose of reparations is both to provide redress, as far as possible, to victims of gross human rights violations, and to re-establish a broader system of legal and social norms. Reparations are said to have three primary goals: to acknowledge the violations of fundamental human rights that have taken place, to include victims in the rebuilding of the state and society after conflict, and to try to repair the harm done to victims and survivors.

 The report notes that reparations processes generally focus on the following five principles:

  • Restitution;
  • Compensation;
  • Rehabilitation;  
  • Satisfaction; and
  • Guarantees of non-repetition.

The report notes that when reparations have resulted after civil wars, they have often been weak, reactive, and deeply politicized. Collecting documents during and after violent conflict is not easy, and it is stated that these challenges should be considered when setting up and administering a reparations program.

It further states that documentation collection and the development of data play an important role in establishing effective reparations programs. Comprehensive data analysis and mapping of human rights violations can inform reparations’ vision and strategy. This information allows funding committees to more accurately estimate resources available and cross-reference them against geographic and socio-economic need.

According to SJAC, a well thought-out reparations program relies on five factors:

  1. Information about the victims to understand victim’s needs;
  2. Participation and buy-in of stakeholders, especially civil society organizations that represent victims and are unlikely to have trust in the future government;
  3. Outreach to victims;
  4. Accessibility of benefits; and
  5. Standards of evidence.

And, to maximize the impact of future reparation programs, the following information should be collected during conflicts:

1. Official records, including:

  • Police headquarter, military, and intelligence agency documentation that may show policies or patterns of violations;
  • Station, prison, and local intelligence cell documentation (written and audio-visual);
  • Military records and logs, which will all be particularly relevant for tracing and providing support for cases of enforced disappearance, abductions, and politically-motivated killings;
  • Urban planning data is useful in cases where minorities have been forcibly displaced;
  • Judicial proceedings against political opponents of the state;
  • Documentation outlining policies of victimization of minorities or structural discrimination of particular groups.

2. Unofficial records, primarily: physical materials, audio-visual or written documentation, and forensic evidence of human rights violations.

3. Testimonies and victim/survivor stories that can form the basis of a dossier for each individual. Basic elements of a witness or victim testimony include the following: personal details of the individual, verification of identity, setting out in detail the harm suffered (who did what to whom and where), and where relevant, any documentation of the harm done. Do not take original documentation from victims, but take copies.

4. Analysis, including: existing briefs, habeas corpus, legal documentation, and trend analysis.

The report stresses to not underestimate how much documentation can be used for symbolic reparations projects. It emphasizes that collective memory and education projects and programming can be aided by careful documentation and data collection.