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The necessity of reparations

| Monday, April 4, 2016

In 2000, Peru’s president was removed from office and an international commission was put together in order to uncover the truth about the violence that had been occurring since 1980 by both terrorist organizations and Peru’s own government. Unfortunately, since strong enough reparations did not follow the report’s release, the Peruvian government and people have taken a long time to heal. In order to reestablish a democratic and stable state in areas of mass violence, reparations focused on the legal accountability and response of the state are needed as an essential part of the healing process. Because of their ability to deal with the unique situation of various afflicted countries, reparations not only reestablish order within the state, but also restore dignity and moral worth to the victims. As proven by the 1980s Peruvian conflict, reparations help low socioeconomic groups, reestablish a trust in government, and assist victim-survivors. Therefore, they are a necessary part of a country’s response to violent conflicts.

The first reason reparations are needed when responding to mass violence is due to their ability to assist low socioeconomic classes. According to statistician Anup Shab, 80 percent of the world lives in countries with widening wage gaps. As these wage gaps increase, the poor become more susceptible to violence within their own communities and exploitation by their governments. This is especially true in the case of Peru, where 49,107 cases of violence in the poor, mountainous region of Ayacucho were brought to light in 2003 by the truth commission. In fact, three out of four people that had died had been poor and illiterate. Reparations help impoverished and exploited individuals by providing them with needed material goods, such as monetary compensation, medical/psychological care and employment. Not only do reparations physically assist impoverished victims, but they also work toward ending marginalization in society. For example, providing exploited communities with better education systems would help increase the literacy rates in an area. This act would not only help raise people out of poverty, but also would help exploited generations pass on their experiences to future generations in order to break the cycle of violence. In Peru, education reforms, resulting from the proposed reparations of the commission, have succeeded in increasing literacy among adult females by 8% since 2003. Therefore, reparations can help marginalized sections of the population understand their cycle of mistreatment and begin to demand government action.

Another way reparations reestablish trust in government is by helping victims reintegrate with their community. Often mass violence targets a group of individuals within a society. Therefore, by providing government reparations to a marginalized group, the state can reestablish a sense of trust between its people. For example, the truth commission suggested that the government should work toward supplying the poor, mountainous communities with reparations, such as clean water. However, the government’s lack of implementation has caused the contaminated water to be 30% in rural areas, but only 8% in urban areas. This disparity has caused the sense of “otherness” among impoverished people to continue to separate them from the wealthier population. By implementing immediate reparations to marginalized groups, the government can reintegrate people as well as establish a better sense of nationalism.

The final reason reparations are a necessary response to mass violence is because they directly assist victim-survivors. By sharing their stories, victims expect their government as well as their fellow citizens to acknowledge their suffering and take action in order to prevent further repression. Reparations in response to sexual violence testimonies are especially important. Both recognition by the state and access to medical care are essential elements in responding to sexual violence. These types of reparations work to restore the dignity that was brutally taken away from the victims. Since women are primarily the victims of sexual assault, it is especially important that reparations are given in order to help women combat already existing biases. For example, although literacy rates have risen among women in Peru, femicide is still prevalent in rural populations. According to the Peru Support Group’s website, 12% of Peruvian women have been the victims of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. Therefore, the lack of immediate and adequate reparations has caused sexual assault cases to still prevail in society. In order to best help the victims, as well as prevent future assaults, reparations are clearly a needed response to violence.

Based on their ability to assist low socioeconomic classes, reestablish trust in government and reinforce the testimonies of victim-survivors, reparations are clearly a necessary and reasonable response to mass violence. Since reparations are definitely a needed response, the next question for world leaders is how to reinforce and sustain reparation programs. Since there is no “world government,” the responsibility for implementing reparations falls on the state itself. This could be a problem, especially if the state is the perpetrator of human rights violations. Because of situations like these, the United Nations should take a greater role in supporting and evaluating the reparations suggested by truth commissions. Therefore, afflicted states could move toward recovery at a faster pace.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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