Put victims and vulnerable groups at the center

Key Finding:  The needs of victims—usually among the most vulnerable and marginalized people in a country—may remain invisible or may fit uneasily into donor paradigms; indeed, donor approaches to TJ often focus on measures like prosecutions that primarily focus on perpetrators rather than victims.

Practical Steps

Supporting the agency of people whose fundamental rights have been violated and need to be reaffirmed is a critical need in a transition and a core principle of TJ. Yet an overwhelming proportion of TJ funding goes to support criminal prosecutions, which focus mainly on perpetrators. While prosecutions are important to many victims, they are not the only things that matter. Lopsided resourcing especially affects the support available to victims, survivors, and vulnerable groups, who are almost never the interlocutors for donors. Instead, donors may rely on professional NGOs that can speak donor “language” and are usually based in the capitals. By engaging with vulnerable groups, including minorities and indigenous peoples, donors can contribute to their participation in political processes by recognizing them as legitimate actors (in countries where they may be very marginalized). Donors can also help them build capacity to successfully raise funds for their work.

Sources: Wierda and Triolo, 125; TJ International Assistance Database; Hayner, 270. 6

NGOs providing direct legal, psychosocial, or medical services to victims and survivors fill a critical gap in contexts where governments are usually unable or unwilling to offer such support. Despite the urgency of meeting the most basic needs of victims, survivors, and vulnerable groups, in most cases these organizations are few in number and woefully underfunded. Their funding may taper off when donor fatigue sets in—even though medical and psychological needs are life-long for some victims.

"Last year we had a meeting with a UN human rights organization in New York. They showed us a list of NGOs receiving their funding. Many NGOs on that list were 'assisting us,' but that was the first I had heard of them."

Victim and survivor representative BiH

There is a perception that many professional NGOs conducting advocacy, research, or technical assistance use victim groups for “extractive” purposes, without building the capacity of or real relationships with those groups. But this is a complicated, context-sensitive set of relationships. For example, sometimes victims’ interests are more likely to be pushed with state actors if victims actually populate and lead professional, national human rights organizations—as they do in Morocco—rather than simply being “represented” by these organizations. For this to happen, however, long-term support ought to be given to developing victims and vulnerable groups as legitimate actors in their own right.

Attention also needs to be given to whether or not civil society networks link to actors in positions of power: for example, women’s or youth organizations may have connections to one another, but not to political decision-makers. They will therefore lack recognition and the ability to influence. Well-targeted capacity- and relationship-building and lobbying training is likely to be very useful.

$100,000 in donor money in Sierra Leone =

1,250 Reparations for war victims.
1 Yearly salary for a prosecuting attorney at SCSL.

Sources: IOM, “Sierra Leone Victims Receive Compensation”; Cassese, “Report on the SCSL,” 58. 7

In the end, what is important is to strike a balance and to ensure that victims are not left by the wayside in donor funding or engagement.

Practical Steps – Put victims at the center

Engage with victim, survivor, and vulnerable groups.

Embassy staff should develop relationships with victim and vulnerable groups: meet with them, ask them what they need, and offer feedback on their proposals, even if the proposals are rejected—but take care not to put people at additional risk.

Ensure balanced support that does not focus solely on perpetrators.

Consider supporting reparations programs for victims alongside other TJ measures, and plan for these resources at the earliest discussion of a TJ process.

Build capacity and broaden networks.

Integrate organizational capacity building and networking activities into grants to victim organizations; support networking events that bring these groups into contact with other types of actors and also helps to build organizational capacity; ensure that funding and networks include groups outside of the capital.

Strengthen collaboration between support NGOs.

Support for victims usually requires multiple channels: legal assistance, medical assistance, psychosocial assistance, witness support, fostering victim organizations/representation, etc. Therefore, donors should consider ways to support collaboration across these types of organizations, or at least coordinate with other donors to ensure that victims’ needs are being met through a variety of donor measures. One idea is to sponsor periodic national meetings that bring these groups together for networking.

In a tough TJ context, support psychosocial and medical NGOs.

If the political context is too sensitive for TJ, then at a minimum channel support to NGOs that provide long-term medical and psychosocial support to victims.