Pricing Suffering: Compensation for Human Rights Violations in Columbia and Peru

Vallejo Pedraza, Diana Catalina, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Bair, Jennifer, AS-Sociology, University of Virginia

Reparations have become a standard feature of transitional justice programs. Existing research focuses on the symbolic value of reparations to promote the desired outcomes of reconciliation and political stability in post-conflict societies. My research instead explores how reparations programs are implemented. Specifically, I study how the states of Colombia and Peru develop and institute these reparation regimes, and the ways in which this process is influenced by the political context, victim characteristics, the nature of the conflict, and perceptions of the war. The central questions are: How do states carry out reparations? What does compensation money mean for states and victims? What types of victim-state relationships develop with economic reparations in transitional contexts? To investigate cash payments to victims of armed conflict, I conducted 20 months of research, including archival analysis, interviews, and ethnographic observations, in Colombia and Peru between 2016 and 2018.
This study makes three contributions. First, I explain how and why the implementation and outcomes of reparations in practice departs from the expectations of the transitional justice model. Specifically, my comparison of Colombia and Peru shows how the interaction between international mandates and local contexts gave birth to unique reparations plans in each country. The timing of the conflict, the local political context, and different legal definitions of victimhood influence institutional practices and monetary valuations, resulting in divergent compensatory paths. Colombia tried to use reparations as an opportunity for institutional expansion, connecting the state with its citizen-victims through the compensation program, and promoting the idea that a conflict-free society was on the horizon. In Peru, post-conflict state building focused on creating a new narrative of the political community, silencing the role of the state in massive human rights violations and highlighting the state’s triumph over the guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement).
Second, I provide new insights regarding the social and cultural dimensions compensation for victims in Colombia and Peru. Analyses show how reparation plans, along with truth commissions and court procedures, processes through which victims address the effects of past widespread violence. I critique one of the premises of transitional justice, which is the claim that reparations advance societies beyond conflict by, by acknowledging the suffering of victims, and instead argue that economic reparations generate conflicting interpretations about what money means and what payments for suffering do for victims. By interrogating the meanings money carries when used to compensate victims of civil conflict, this research shows that there is a surplus of meaning that cannot be contained in the expectations of transitional justice law and policy.
Third, this study contributes to sociological literature on development by examining the implementation of reparation policies that aim to foster economic development in post-conflict contexts. The case of Colombia illustrates what happens when states decide to adopt reparation policies that intend not only to restore the rights of those directly affected by civil war but also to economically transform their lives. In so doing, this research highlight how the use of reparations as development shifts the focus from acknowledging past-wrongdoings to an emphasis on a prosperous post-conflict economic future.
Ultimately, this analysis clarifies how societies attempt to come to terms with the effects of civil conflict using the transitional justice repertoire. I argue that the implementation of economic reparations is highly influenced by the local setting. The timing of the conflict, the political context as well as local cultural understandings of money and suffering play a key role in how reparation policies develop.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Civil Conflict, Transitional Justice , Suffering, Colombia, Peru
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