ICC War Victims Fund Under Strain
Activists fear that a fund set up to support victims of crimes under investigation by the International Criminal Court, ICC, is set to come under huge pressure as its remit expands and funding struggles to keep pace.
Over the past five years, the Trust Fund for Victims, TFV – set up under the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC – has provided an invaluable lifeline for many war victims in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.
TFV offers assistance to people who have suffered from crimes being probed by the ICC, with much of the funds distributed to 16 projects in Uganda and 15 in DRC. TFV estimates that its work has benefited 42,300 people directly.
The fund is now looking at ways of extending its operations to Sudan and the Central African Republic, CAR. If the ICC decides to formally charge people in connection with the violence that took place in Kenya between 2007 and 2008, TFV may also offer support to victims there.
Moreover, if the ICC orders reparations to be paid to victims, which could happen if the court delivers a guilty verdict in one of the on-going trials in The Hague, then demands on TFV are likely to increase. According to the Rome Statute, the fund is responsible for administering reparations, although how this will work remains unclear.
As such needs have grown, voluntary contributions, used to fund projects in situation countries, have also risen. TFV received 800,000 US dollars in 2007, mainly from ICC member states. In 2009, the figure rose to 2.6 million dollars.
In June, ICC member states meeting in Kampala acknowledged that they should increase their contributions to TFV so that "timely and adequate assistance and reparations can be provided".
At the end of July, the board of the TFV tentatively put forward a proposal for a small rise in state parties’ funding of the ICC secretariat’s budget for 2011, which it says would be needed to meet the anticipated expansion of the fund's activities to Kenya.
But for those on the ground who are administering help, more money is needed to meet the diverse range of needs in the war-affected areas.
The Northeast Chilli Producers’ Association, NECPA, one of 18 TFV partner organisations operating in Uganda, provides support to war victims and local communities by helping them grow their own crops – not just chillies, but also other staple products such as potatoes and cassava.
Since 2009, they have received 125,690 euro from the TFV, with a further 79,448 euro expected next year.
This gives victims a steady stream of income, allowing them to feed their family and rebuild their lives. Helen Acam, head of NECPA, says that some have even used this money to get operations in private hospitals for injuries they suffered during the war.
“What we are doing really makes a huge difference to the lives of those we are helping,” Acam said. “Without this kind of support, victims who still have bullets lodged in their bodies cannot afford to go to the hospital to have them removed. People have been able to acquire basic human requirements – shelter, dressing, food – which they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”
But Acam knows that the needs far outstrip the resources that are available.
“There are many more victims in the same situation, [which we have not been able to reach],” she said. “Victims from other areas hear how we are helping to rebuild people’s livelihoods, and they also demand the same treatment. They send their district leaders to talk to us. We know we should go and help them, but we need more funds.”
NECPA has directly helped 3324 victims so far, with many other indirect beneficiaries who gain from new technologies and agricultural practices that the organisation has introduced. NECPA works principally in the Teso and Lira sub-regions of Uganda.
Nathan Ebiru, programme coordinator for the Amuria District Development Agency, ADDA, which works closely with NECPA, agrees that resources are insufficient.
"There are many victims with diverse demands,” he said. “In one way or another, everyone is a victim in Teso."
Acam, though, welcomes the support that the TFV has offered so far – and says it has been a crucial factor in getting victims behind the work of the court.
“Before the TFV came, there was a lot of doubt among people in northern Uganda, who were not supportive of the [ICC],” she said. “But now that they have seen the real difference that the TFV money is making – doing something tangible by changing the lives of victims – attitudes [to the ICC] are changing.”
War victims who have received assistance through TFV-funded projects appreciate the help that has been given, but fear the support is not enough and that, with so many people still needing attention, they are being denied the opportunity to fully recover.
"Imagine a person like me who still has a bullet lodged in his body," said one war victim, who declined to be named. "I feel a lot of pain and I cannot function effectively due to the torture that I went through. The only respite comes from TFV. But the money they provide is not enough, since the victims are so many. The government should set up another fund to help more people."
Many worry that the support they have received will not continue because of the limited funds available.
Another victim says that he was tortured by the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, and left to die. Although he survived, his health has been irreparably damaged - and he is dependent on charity for medical treatment.
"My health is still very bad and I often vomit blood," he said. "I need support for further examination and treatment. Although I have got some assistance through TFV, this has not been enough and my health continues to suffer."
Mariana Goetz, ICC programme advisor for human rights organisation Redress, agrees that, while the TFV has made a positive start, there are still many needs not being met.
“It’s early days, but what we have gathered, both from reports issued by the TFV and speaking to people on the ground, is that the body is making a real difference,” she said. “However, in terms of the amount of help being given, only a fraction of the persons victimised are receiving some form of assistance.”
Goetz points says that the TFV continues to do a huge amount of outreach in order to sensitise communities and raise awareness of victimisation, which accounts for a large proportion of the number of people being reached. But she says that the TFV needs to do more to give practical assistance to those that need it.
Goetz praises the work of a TFV-funded project in northern Uganda, which helps reconstruct the faces of those that were horribly mutilated during the country’s civil war.
“The project has made a huge difference to the lives of many people, who are now able to lead better lives because of the facial reconstruction that they have had,” she said. “[Though] we know that there are hundreds more that need similar surgery, but have been unable to access the project.”
Goetz says that it is a challenge for the TFV to raise funds in the current climate. She adds that the TFV should now be looking at reviewing its fund-raising strategy, and also to develop strategies to become more well-known outside of ICC circles.
“At the moment, the TFV is mainly relying on contributions and voluntary donations from member states,” she said. “There is nothing to prevent them having big fund-raising events, and reaching out beyond the state parties. The TFV can receive funds from any source, as long as they meet their guidelines, and I hope this will become a clear focus going forwards.”
Paulina Vega Gonzalez, from the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH, is also disappointed that the level of funding for the TFV remains so low.
“It is really remarkable that the TFV is reaching so many people, when you look at the resources they have available,” Gonzalez said. “When you see what the TFV is achieving, it’s a real shame to see its [level of funding] compared to other institutions.”
She urged member states to really engage with the TFV, and get behind what it is trying to do, rather than just looking on from a distance. For Gonzalez, the TFV is not just another aid organisation - it is a crucial component of the ICC, since it demonstrates how international justice can bring a direct benefit to the victims of war crimes.
“The work that the TFV is doing is directly linked to the [ICC’s] goal of making justice meaningful,” she said. “In Uganda, the legal process has been stalled for a while, but at least the beneficiaries are seeing that justice is still working for them. The TFV is a crucial component of the ICC that needs everyone’s support.”
For its part, TFV understands that more help is needed, but says that it is working as effectively as it can with the resources that it has at its disposal.
"At present, TFV is doing all that it is empowered and resourced to accomplish regarding victims' rehabilitation in northern Uganda," Kristin Kalla, senior programme officer with TFV, said.
"Each year, our programmes access more villages and communities than the previous year, but our ability to expand coverage is always dependant on donations provided to the fund. This is a challenge and we understand that we are not able to meet all of the victim's expectations."
Kalla says that other actors in the region should be encouraged to provide support, rather than allow the entire burden to fall on the shoulders of TFV.
"We encourage local efforts to assist victims and affected communities and we are always available to consult with the Uganda government and others to discuss ways to transition our support over to national mechanisms," she said.
Over the past year, TFV has launched a consultation process to understand how they can better deliver support to war-affected communities in northern Uganda and DRC. The full study will be made public by the end of the year.
During the June ICC conference, New Vision, a leading Ugandan newspaper, reported concerns expressed by Elisabeth Rehn, TFV's newly-appointed chairwoman, that due to limited resources the fund has been able to reach only a small fraction of those war victims that need help in northern Uganda.
Ebiru said that in many ways, victims in Teso have been easier to reach than those in Acholiland, in the very north of the country.
One NGO source, who preferred not to be named, said that community leaders in the north have often stopped those who could benefit from help from coming forwards.
"In the north, some leaders are against [rebel leader Joseph] Kony's arrest [warrant] and favour traditional justice over the ICC," he said. "That is why there are fewer victims identified in the region."
This has meant that they have missed out on TFV support, he added.
Santos Labeja, the chairman of the Uganda Victims Foundation, a coalition of human rights organisations and NGOs, says Kampala should take more of a leading role in supporting victims of the country's brutal civil war.
Ebiru says that while the government has been very supportive of TFV's involvement in the country, it has not offered any financial backing for victims.
"For now, there is no special government programme for the victims in the north and Teso regions," Musa Ecweru, minister for disaster preparedness and also member of parliament for Amuria district, said. "However, the Peace Recovery and Development Plan, PRDP, is the government programme that targets everyone in [those regions] that suffered the worst atrocities from Kony's rebel army."
The PRDP was officially launched in October 2007 in order to provide a coordinated way of tackling Uganda's post-conflict reconstruction, with a budget of 540 million dollars – 30-40 per cent provided by the government and the rest from domestic and international donors.
But it was only mandated to run for three years, so the affected regions will now be integrated into the nationwide Poverty Eradication Action Plan, PEAP.
There is also international aid money flowing into the country from other sources. For example, USAID, an American federal agency, provided 416 million dollars in 2009, with the sum estimated to rise to 456 million dollars by the end of the year.
But Ebiru points out that such aid money is only going to certain areas – countering the spread of HIV/AIDS is often the preferred choice – while other needs get overlooked. In particular, he says there remain big gaps in dealing with psychological trauma and helping former abductees acquire the vocational skills they need to get on.
Richard Ekotu is an IWPR-trained reporter. Blake Evans-Pritchard is IWPR's Africa editor.