With differing approaches having developed in the various ICC cases, civil society is calling for greater consistency and predictability to ensure that victims’ right to participate in courtroom proceedings is both effective and meaningful.
Multitude of benefits
The ICC Rome Statute contains strong provisions on the rights and interests of victims, one of which is the right of a victim to take an active part in the criminal trial of his or her alleged perpetrator.
This is in recognition that victims should play a central role in the courtroom. Taking an active part in the trial can be empowering as it forms part of the recognition of harm suffered. It can therefore be an important step in the healing process for the victim as well as affected communities.
There are great benefits for the Court itself as well. Victims’ active participation—as opposed to only appearing as witnesses—helps to paint a full picture of what actually happened.
Multitude of approaches
The procedure for the participation of victims in proceedings before the ICC has yet to be standardized, with Court chambers adopting many different approaches over the years.
While each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses, the differences mainly concern the application process for victims to request to participate, the appointment of counsel in charge of representing the victims in the courtroom and, sometimes, the scope of the participation during the proceedings themselves.
Expert group calls for consistency
Although it is important to have a case-specific approach to address the idiosyncrasies of each case, different application systems and modes of representation currently in place at the Court risk confusing victims and raising false expectations.
The administrative system itself is also affected by the divergent views of the chambers, with the Court sections responsible needing to reinvent the wheel in each case.
The Victims’ Rights Working Group—a network of international and national NGOs and experts specializing in victims’ issues—has therefore called for greater consistency and predictability for victims to ensure their right to participate is effective and meaningful.
The Working Group believes that the Court should now holistically evaluate the system of victim participation as it has evolved before the various chambers, taking into account the views of all relevant stakeholders, primarily the victims themselves.
An internal, inter-organ review of victim participation should lead to a more harmonized, predictable system.
Recommitting to a victim-centered Court
All stakeholders in the Rome Statute system should recommit to a victim-centered approach and recognize the benefits that victims’ participation in proceedings brings for victims themselves and for their communities.
This is crucial to the Court fulfilling its mandate and for the legitimacy of international justice as a whole.
Read the latest report of the Victim’s Rights Working Group, Making Victim Participation Meaningful