One of VAI’s focuses on 2021 will be on forging connections with groups of victims, within and between countries. For victims of serious international crimes, mounting a campaign for justice can feel lonely. In Bangladesh, Somalia and South Sudan, VAI has worked with victim groups who do not know any other groups of people who have experienced atrocities the way they have, and who feel they are the only ones whose own country have denied them the ability to get justice.
Trying to navigate international justice processes is daunting. It is daunting for seasoned international lawyers; so for victims of crimes who are not lawyers, who may have limited educational backgrounds, and who have often been displaced from their homes and are trying to mount their campaign for justice from a refugee camp, these processes can seem almost completely inaccessible. In such a context, knowing that some victim groups- also refugees or internally displaced people with limited education- have had certain successes in their campaign for justice can serve as tangible hope and inspiration for groups who are just getting started.
VAI saw this process first hand in 2020, when we facilitated groups of Rohingya victims of atrocities from Myanmar to produce short videos to share their experiences and advice with groups of victims of atrocities from South Sudan. The groups in South Sudan had been established somewhat recently, and were looking for advice about what activities they could undertake and approaches they could adopt to actively pursue justice ad demand their rights. The Rohingya groups have had a lot of success in making their demands for justice heard: they have been widely covered in national and international media; they have addressed the United Nations; met the President of the US; and are represented in several communications to the International Criminal Court.
We asked the Rohingya groups how they achieved these successes, and what advice they had for South Sudanese groups hoping to raise a similar profile. We formatted their advice into ten videos, which we shared with the groups in South Sudan. More unexpected than the result of being able to share information and advice with the South Sudanese groups was the benefit for the Rohingya groups, who built confidence over the course of making the videos, and felt a sense of pride in being asked for their experiences and expertise.
Stills from the videos: staff from the Arakan Society for Peace and Human Rights share their advice with the South Sudanese groups.
The experience made us realise how few opportunities there are for groups of victims of international crimes, who have been through similar, traumatising experiences, and who are now trying to get justice with often limited support, to connect with each other and give each other support and advice. Around the world, professionals of all stripes frequently benefit from networking opportunities, experience-sharing, mentoring and various forums through which they can access advice from people who have tread the same path they are now on. Victim groups operate in territories less charted than most- and as we saw from our project, the benefits of them connecting with each other went both ways. The South Sudan groups were able to receive the advice they had asked for; the Rohingya groups were able to build their skills as teachers and mentors; and both groups were able to feel less alone.
In 2021, VAI will be looking for opportunities to increase connections between the group it works with around the world. We will be facilitating these groups to learn from each other, to forge connections, and to build global movement of victims- speaking out together, with a voice that will become increasingly difficult to ignore.
For further information, please contact Clare Brown, Deputy Director (Victim Advocates International, firstname.lastname@example.org).