Team of Legal Representatives for Victims at the opening of the Lubanga trial- © ICC-CPI/Michael Kooren

Victims' rights in international justice

Recent years have seen a proliferation of international criminal tribunals and special courts designed to end impunity for some of the worst crimes known to humankind: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the widespread and systematic perpetration of torture, disappearances and other serious human rights abuses. A number of such courts have been established to deal with egregious crimes that have taken place in a particular country. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for RwandaInternational Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Serious War Crimes Panel in Timor Leste, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The jurisdiction and mandates of these courts differ, but essentially they have been established to ensure that the perpetrators who bear the most responsibility do not escape justice. In 2002, the beacon of international justice institutions was established - the International Criminal Court (ICC). Unlike the other courts, the ICC was not created to deal with the crimes of one particular country. It was established as a permanent international justice institution, with a mandate to prosecute the world's most heinous crimes, when it is not possible for these crimes to be dealt with nationally. The Court has jurisdiction over the nationals of States parties to the Rome Statute and individuals who perpetrate crimes in the territory of states parties, and additionally, can take up a case when the United Nations Security Council refers to it as a situation, as has happened with Darfur, Sudan.

What are victims' rights in these processes?

Victims have long been the silent partners of such processes. They have been brought to these courts to testify about their very personal and traumatic experiences yet very little has been done to reduce their alienation from the process and to ensure that the experience does not contribute to their further traumatisation or risks of further reprisals back home. International standards such as the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power and the recently adopted United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of international humanitarian law, recognise victims' rights to be treated with humanity and respect for their dignity, and that appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their safety, physical and psychological well-being and privacy, as well as those of their families. Also, these texts recognise the right of victims to adequate, effective and prompt reparation which should be proportional to the gravity of the violations and the harm suffered.

What is REDRESS' work in this area?

REDRESS' work in this area is to ensure that the rights of victims under international law are reflected in the procedures and practices of international justice mechanisms. In particular, REDRESS is the informal coordinator of the Victims' Rights Working Group, a network of organisations and individuals working to support and promote the position of victims before the International Criminal Court. The VRWG' s Tri-Annual Bulletin, is available in English, French, Arabic, Spanish and Russian. All of the publications of the VRWG and member organisations are located here.


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