UK Government Must Pursue New Avenues to Finance Reparations for Victims

By Natalia Kubesch, Legal Officer 


In a new briefing published today, REDRESS identifies important legal and policy reforms that the UK Government should implement to ensure the repurposing of profits derived from violations of international human rights and humanitarian law to provide reparations to victims. Our recommendations show that innovative avenues are available to produce significant funds that would have a transformative impact on the lives of victims. The UK Government must now seize the opportunity to implement these solutions and fulfil victims’ rights to reparations. 

For example, the repurposing of fines for, or assets involved in, breaches of sanctions linked to human rights violations can potentially offer a particularly abundant source of untapped funding, if channelled correctly. The UK enforcement authorities already have the power to impose significant fines, against those involved in breaching UK sanctions. However, there is currently no legal basis under English law allowing for fines to be repurposed as reparations for victims. In the absence of such legal basis, these funds are paid into the Government’s general bank account at the Bank of England (the Consolidated Fund), allowing the Government to inadvertently benefit from the violations.  

Likewise, assets linked to unlawful conduct, including human rights violations, may be confiscated for the benefit of victims by deploying traditional asset recovery mechanisms under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Civil asset recovery orders can provide a powerful route to confiscate assets in the UK that are derived from “gross human rights violations”. However, the definition of this term is currently too narrowly focused, preventing prosecuting authorities from confiscating illicit wealth derived from some of the most serious human rights violations. In addition, changes to the UK’s Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme are needed to ensure that a percentage of any confiscated proceeds will be allocated as reparations for victims.  

Alternative financing methods, such as targeted taxation of profits generated by frozen perpetrator assets and incentivising sanctioned persons to donate their assets, can also provide effective complementary funding streams. The potential of targeted taxation in raising mass funds for reparations was demonstrated by the Belgian Government, which announced in October 2023 that it would invest €1.7 billion in Ukraine, sourced from tax revenue generated from frozen Russian central bank assets. Similarly, sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich’s commitment to deliver the £2.5 billion proceeds of his sale of Chelsea football club to victims of the war through a charitable foundation demonstrates the scale of funds that could be raised for victims through donations – provided the process is transparent and provides for a measure of accountability.  

Nevertheless, finding solutions for generating funds to finance reparations is only half the work done. The briefing concludes that the UK government must establish new mechanisms to pool repurposed, recovered, or donated funds and enable those who have suffered abuses abroad to access them as reparations. While existing victim compensation funds provide an avenue for reparations in cases of domestic crime, they are unavailable to non-UK citizens or victims of international crimes. In practice, this means that foreign victims and those who have suffered human rights violations abroad are prevented from claiming reparation, even in cases where there is a nexus to the UK.  

In July 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Fabián Salvioli, recommended that States in the international community should “consider repurposing frozen assets and fines collected through sanctions against persons involved in human rights violations to repurpose them for reparations of victims”.  Adopting the recommendations set out in this briefing would allow the UK Government to implement this guidance and establish itself as an international leader in the financing of reparations for victims of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. 

The briefing builds upon an earlier REDRESS briefing launched on 7 November 2023 to coincide with the UK Government’s announcement that it intends to introduce a Criminal Justice Bill, which provides an opportunity to strengthen the UK’s approach to tackling complex offences and pursue routes for repurposing illicit wealth. 

For more information or for an interview, please contact Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications, on [email protected], +44 (0)20 7793 1777 (office) or +44 (0) 7857 110076 (mobile).

Photo by REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh.