Changing the script: non-state armed groups, restorative justice and reparations

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This article examines the role of Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) and their former members in delivering reparations to victims and communities affected by past acts of violence. The article draws from extensive interviews with former members of armed groups, victims and communities affected by violence in Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Peru and Uganda. Grounded in the theory and practice of restorative justice, this article critiques the legalistic and state-centric analysis which often characterizes the field of reparations and makes four interconnected arguments. First, that NSAG engagement in reparations can offer a unique practical contribution to meeting the needs of victims (including truth recovery, the recovery of disappeared bodies, de-mining etc.) but also represent a powerful symbolic effort to restore the human dignity of victims and a commitment to prevent violence from recurring. Second, that by taking ‘active responsibility’ through reparations work for past violence, NSAGs and ex-combatants can themselves become involved in processes of delabelling and destigmatization, finding routes to demonstrate their own humanity, and in some cases, becoming involved in work that resonates with the political ideology that motivated them to engage in political violence in the first place. Third, that NSAG reparations can play a significant role in societal and political transformation in post conflict societies, with ex-combatants themselves being key drivers for change through such reparative work. The article concludes by arguing that NSAG and ex-combatant reparative work can represent a self-conscious effort to ‘change the script’, transforming relationships previously defined by violence and harm to ones designed to improve the lives of victims, ex-combatants themselves and the societies in which they live.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454–477
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Human Rights Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022


  • Law
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • History


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