are broadly understood as compensation given for an abuse or injury. The colloquial meaning of reparations has changed substantively over the last century. In the early 1900s, reparations were interstate
exchanges (see war reparations): punitive
mechanisms determined by treaty and paid by the surrendering side of conflict, such as the World War I reparations paid by Germany and its allies. Now, reparations are understood as not just war damages but compensation and other measures provided to victims of severe human rights
violations by the parties responsible. The right of the victim of an injury to receive reparations and the duty of the part responsible to provide them has been secured by the United Nations.
In transitional justice
, reparations are measures taken by the state to redress gross and systematic violations of human rights law or humanitarian law through the administration of some form of compensation or restitution to the victims. Of all the mechanisms of transitional justice, reparations are unique because they directly address the situation of the victims. Reparations, if well designed, acknowledge
victims’ suffering, offer measures of redress, as well as some form of compensation for the violations suffered. Reparations can be symbolic as well as material. They can be in the form of public acknowledgement
of or apology
for past violations, indicating state and social commitment to respond
to former abuses.
It is widely acknowledged that in order to be effective, reparations must be employed alongside other transitional justice measures such as prosecutions, truth-seeking, and institutional reform. Such mechanisms ensure that compensatory measures are not empty promises
, temporary stopgap
measures, or attempts to buy the silence