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Pursuing Justice for Mass Atrocities: A Handbook for Victim Groups

The Holocaust Memorial Museum organised this webinar to present its newly created handbook entitled Pursuing Justice for Mass Atrocities, A Handbook for Victim Groups. Naomi Kikoler, the director of the center for prevention of genocide of the museum, explained that victims of mass atrocity crimes want to fight for accountability, however they do not know how to do so. The handbook was therefore created to help victims understand how to access justice by explaining key concepts, institutions, but also international justice’s limitations.

The handbook is so far only in English, but the museum is planning to translate it into French, Spanish, Arabic, Swahili, Uyghur and more languages if possible.

Judge Tom Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor and a former International Court of Justice judge, offered some introductory remarks and explained that, for him, justice meant two things: (1) a punishment of the perpetrators, but also (2) a form of reparation for the victims. He gave the example of his own mother who got reparation through the payment of a pension on behalf of her deceased husband.

The panel was composed of Jame Kolok (South Sudan), Pari Ibrahim (Yazidis), Wai Wai Nu (Rohingyas) and Rushan Abbas (Uyghurs). This summary will focus on the aspects discussed by Ms Ibrahim from the Free Yazidi Foundation as it concerns Iraq and Syria. Pari Ibrahim explained that a victim-centered approach meant that the victims were the ones to determine the plan, the path they would take. She gave the example that her organisation and survivors were once invited to Geneva to tell their stories, but she realised that the victims did not want to go. She therefore declined. It is a hard balance as some survivors want to spread the word about the genocide against the Yazidis, seek accountability, but others will need to focus on themselves and rebuild their life. Ms Ibrahim said that in doubt she will always go for the survivor’s wellbeing rather than accountability and justice.

Pari Ibrahim also explained that Covid had made her organisation’s work more difficult: it is harder for international psychiatrists and lawyers to go to Iraq, where the organisation works with Yazidi survivors. However, she praised her Justice and Accountability team which is still managing to do great work and send important pieces of evidence to international justice mechanisms such as the IIIM and UNITAD. She explained that finding funding was made even more difficult with the pandemic. Finally, she warned that victims felt more isolated during the crisis, and therefore were more vulnerable to empty promises. She warned against promising victims reparations as they can get too hopeful and later be deceived. A number of Islamic State’s militants have been killed in Iraq and Syria, and some who are still alive remain at large. It is therefore unsure that all survivors will be able to seek justice, and compensation.

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