Amsterdam International Law Clinic

Law students research the value of a human life

11 October 2013

While it is impossible to put a price on life, parties to a conflict may offer victims or their relatives payments in response to their losses. Students of the Amsterdam International Law Clinic (AILC) made an overview of payment programmes offered around the world to victims of conflicts and terrorist attacks. The report was presented during an expert meeting hosted by the AILC.

Frederiek de Vlaming discusses the context of the report.

Dr. Frederiek de Vlaming introduces the speakers.

Commissioned by attorney and UvA professor Liesbeth Zegveld and the Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington DC, clinic students examined programmes and their implementation in settings of armed conflict and in response to serious crimes and terrorist attacks. The research resulted in an overview of more than thirty programmes around the world, from Afghanistan to the Marshall Islands, offering payments for a variety of reasons. Payments are not necessarily based on legal obligations, but are made out of solidarity, ethical considerations, the creation of goodwill and in relation to transitional justice.

How much is  a life worth?

The research did not aim to set a price on civilian losses, but rather to evaluate the trends of current practice by describing valuation methods and the amounts being paid. Budgetary and funding aspects were addressed as far as these aspects influenced valuation and the amounts paid.

After the presentation, prof. Zegveld discussing the results.

Professor Zegveld (r) with a visiting expert.

Lack of consistency

Great disparities exist among the various monetary payment programmes, including the categories of harm for which monetary payments have been made, the amount of payments, and the manner in which these amounts are determined. Professor Zegveld observed that ‘there is lack of consistency and a total lack of transparency.’ Factors that contribute to this situation include economic conditions, available resources, legal system, lawfulness, degree of culpability and circumstances of the victims. The expert meeting concluded that the report is a first step for further research on war reparations and other payments to victims of conflict.

The report is the product of collaboration between the Amsterdam International Law Clinic and Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington DC.

Published by  AILC