The Platform

Pictured: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad.

“Reparations are what survivors want most, yet receive [the] least.” With these words uttered by Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Global Survivors Fund was established in 2019 with the aim of providing survivor-centric, contextualized reparations to victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

The event, highlighted by the inclusion of the Fund’s two co-founders, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, was the latest opportunity to put survivors of sexual violence first. The nominations of Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege in 2018 for the Nobel Peace Prize cannot be underestimated in making these latest developments possible. Soon after their nominations, the Mukwege Foundation and Nadia’s Initiative sought to capitalize on the publicity of their nominations by pushing for an International Reparations Initiative for victims of sexual violence, at a high-level meeting with the UN Secretary-General in February of 2019.

A month later, high-level actors, donors, and survivors converged in Luxembourg for the inauguration of another organization, the Stand Speak Rise Up initiative to “end rape as a weapon.” Each successive push, culminating in the launch of the Global Survivors Fund, is an indication of the impact policy activists can have in furthering a given agenda.

Why all the fuss? The agenda-setting process

To the casual observer, all this attention for a singular issue appears to have dropped out of the blue, landing squarely in the headlines on our morning newspapers. Yet recent headlines fail to convey the complex and entrepreneurial work which has gone into shaping the institutions and policies we have today. Institutional legitimacy can be traced back to the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security in 2000. This was followed by the Nairobi Declaration on Women’s and Girls’ Right to a Remedy and Reparation in 2007 which brought together women’s rights activists and civil society to guide policymaking and advocate for a survivor-centered approach towards reparations for victims of sexual violence.

Tracing this pathway serves to highlight the normative developments and institutional arrangements required to enact durable policy outcomes. The Nobel Peace Prize committee, in one of their more successful nominations (see Abiy Ahmed) threw a spotlight back on this work which had languished since 2014. What is known in policy circles as a policy window was thrust open and the work of civil society and international organizations once more came to the fore. The Fund, capitalizing on this attention, has already attracted recognition and legitimacy, with references in UN Security Council Resolution 2467 on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2019, and support from the G7.

The question now becomes how can grassroots initiatives, which have set the agenda for reparations to be taken seriously, take advantage of a conducive narrative framework to assist the international community in generating meaningful transformations? And what is necessary for reparations to be truly transformative?

Transformative reparations: A way forward

A promising aspect discussed at a Survivors’ Hearing on Reparations back in November – with a vast field of literature behind it, is the idea of transformative reparations. These reparations aim to transform the living conditions of victims of sexual violence. It brings into account socio-economic as well as cultural contexts to offer a path forward for survivors which extends beyond the mere act of compensation. Three recommendations highlight the potential for transformative reparations.

Firstly, reparations should include the provision of rehabilitative measures provided in a culturally sensitive way. Services such as healthcare, including mental healthcare, education and skills training, and housing should be funded. These ensure survivors maintain their quality of life which may have been impacted by the sexual violence they experienced.

Secondly, gender-specific legal and institutional reforms are needed. This entails repealing discriminatory legislation and the enactment of gender-progressive laws. Such changes ensure the institutional failures which lead to widespread sexual violence are nullified. An example of this would be raising the bar for marriage, 18 years in most cases.

Finally, guarantees of non-repetition are fundamental to prevent the recurrence of sexual violence. Such policy would be made concrete through reforms of legal and institutional frameworks as detailed above. It would also rely on training and education within a socio-cultural context to transform discriminatory norms into a gender-progressive society.

A need to build on recent achievements

The purpose of reparations is to allow survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to regain a dignified standard of living. To this extent, I have demonstrated the critical importance of going beyond reparations solely, as a means of compensation.

The hearing in Kinshasa marks a crucial shift in this regard, taking the discussion on reparations back to survivors at the grassroots level. Yet international organizations still play an outsized role in implementing recommendations from civil society.

To this extent, the Global Survivors Fund it is hoped will bridge this gap in addressing issues of effective participation and co-creation of reparative measures within the international arena. Recommendations from this recent event on transformative reparations mark demonstrable ways in which institutions can end the cycle of violence survivors face.

The challenge now will be whether the Global Survivors Fund can translate these findings from the grassroots level into international institutional commitment and end the decades-long fight to realize rights to not only reparations but transformative reparations.

Tariq Azeez is a Master's Researcher at the European University Institute – School of Transnational Governance in Florence, Italy. He is conducting research on the role of reparations in addressing the harm faced by victims of conflict related sexual violence. Prior to this, he conducted research in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on the role of civil society groups in conflicts.