There’s been angry scenes and protests in Belfast in Northern Ireland today. A government-sponsored commission has recommended that the families of all of the 3,700 people who died in the three decades long Troubles, should receive a one-off payment of $17,000 as ‘recognition’ of their loss. The idea has been slammed by many politicians and victims’ relatives. Read one of their stories here.
It’s happened elsewhere. In Chile in 2006 the families of 12 dissidents killed under the military’s regime were awarded $112 million.
As part of Libya’s deal to come back into the international fold, it paid $1.5 billion to relatives of victims of terror attacks blamed on Tripoli.
Other countries have taken a different route. South Africa famously held a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of apartheid where people simply admitted the crimes they had committed to their victims and families, and in many cases said sorry. It’s generally thought to have been a success in helping the country move forward.
So does money, whether you call it compensation or a ‘recognition payment’ help to heal the wounds? Would a simple admission of wrongdoing and a ‘sorry’ be enough?
And what about the question of who should actually get the compensation? In the case of Northern Ireland, what’s really inflamed debate is that the money would be offered to both the families of innocent victims as well as to the families of killers. Is that fair? Are you just as much a victim of war if you killed people before being killed yourself as if you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Could you ever envisage a day when the victims on both sides in the current conflict in Gaza might receive money from the other side? And would it make a difference anyway?