By Guest Writer Pritika Negi and Eilin Maria Baiju

By honoring and upholding the victim’s right to receive remedies and reparations, the international community maintains strong empathy for the victims of gross violations of International Humanitarian Law. After more than a decade, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on February 9 2022, delivered a contentious judgment with respect to the international armed conflict between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda after the failure to reach a consensus in negotiations. Contrary to the goal, the mode of reparation was restricted to a mere $325 million in monetary compensation. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were to pay this amount in five annual installments instead of the initially claimed lump sum of $11 billion. The court awarded this compensation on an exceptional basis in the form of “global sums”—a rough estimate of the amount of damages that a court may grant when there are serious evidentiary difficulties, after denying all the macroeconomic damage faced by the DRC. 

This compensation was the sole reliance for millions of people of Uganda who had lost their lives and limbs, were internally displaced, harassed, pushed to the brim of poverty and for rebuilding the economy as a whole. Yet, the Hon’ble Court failed to acknowledge the same. With the compensation not accounting for thousands of affected victims, it would be erroneous and fallacious to conclude that it would serve the intended purpose and bring effective relief to the citizens. The reasoning behind why this decision is unjust, is two-fold. First, the compensation amount is not sufficient when looked at from an individual perspective which signifies both the loss incurred and the average amount the citizens would receive. Second, the real value of money in the coming years would diminish due to inflation, thereby further decreasing the value of the meagre compensation awarded.  

This raises an important question: Is the “range” taken into account while calculating the reparation amount  accurately reflective of the immense loss and grave human rights violations? Referring to the reports submitted before the Hon’ble Court, the authors give a negative response. The range is ideally supposed to be a ‘reasonable range,’ providing for a specific or probable number of victims, which is absent here. However, the range settled for in the present case was non-uniform and vague. Apart from the compensation, no other form of ‘non-material moral damages’ was provided for the victims. Despite considering multiple reports, the World Court decided to charge Uganda with the only responsibility of compensating 45% of the 10% of a total loss of human life and shifted the onus of the remaining 55% onto ‘unidentified groups.’ No accountability has been made for the actual 90% of the losses incurred on the basis of the dearth of evidence. This shows that while passing an order reflecting compensation as a “global sum” the Court has taken into account the superannuated State-centric approach and not the victim-oriented approach, brushing aside the latter’s plight.

Yusuf J., former President and current Member Justice of the ICJ, pointed out his dismay on how Uganda’s acts were shielded, setting out extremely flawed precedence in the International Legal System. Moving away from the majority decision, Yusuf J. stated in his declaration that, “the uniqueness and peculiarity of each category of injury are lost in the award of a global sum for all five categories.” This narrative has been proven accurate by the Court when dealing with the nominal compensation to victims or regarding the mode of reparation. Completely deviating itself from the principles of justice and focusing merely on civil liabilities, the Court has failed to provide a “Guarantee of Non-Reparation” in form of reparation or deterrence.

Thus, it would be preposterous to appreciate the judgment and believe that the amount of compensation would console the bleeding economy and cement the gross human rights violations. It could well be concluded in the scenario where Uganda through its ministry of foreign affairs has called out the judgment for being “unfair and wrong” and has on the face rejected all the findings of the UN’s top court.

Decades of futile negotiation and time lag have added to the miseries of the DRC and its citizens. It is a perfect example of ‘justice unserved’ and might serve as a deterrent factor for the victims to not approach the ICJ in the near future.

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