The slow-turning cog-wheels of the international criminal justice system: are victims benefiting from the system?

The world celebrates International Justice Day today 17 July 2013. This day will most likely go unnoticed to many but for victims who have directly or indirectly been affected by criminal acts that violated their dignity as human beings, it may just be a reminder of empty promises of redress for their harm and a second blow of revictimization. A majority of victims of international crimes still do not have access to justice and the possibility of receiving reparations for their suffering remains remote. Although the day is celebrated in commemoration of the significant day fifteen years ago that the Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted by States in Rome, from a victims’ perspective, not much has been gained in terms of addressing their plight.

Since the ICC opened its doors in 2002, the reality is that the focus on investigations and prosecutions of individual perpetrators of international crimes far outweighs the efforts relating to redress of victims’ harm. This focus is not negative, in fact accountability for these crimes is necessary and provideds a measure of justice to victims and survivors of these crimes. The Rome Statute provides the framework where victims of international crimes have the right to participate in legal proceedings and the right to reparations. The potential of this framework has not fully been tapped into. The challenges currently faced by the ICC in evaluating the large applications by victims in the situation countries to participate in legal proceedings and the limited financial and logistical capacities to provide reparations to these victims must be the heralding call to States to re-assess the access to justice and reparations needs of victims of international crimes. Relegating the task of providing redress to victims of international crimes to a supranational institution such as the ICC is unsatisfactory and has proven to be mired in procedural bottle-necks.

Nation-States should urgently focus on the strengthening of national legal systems to provide redress to its own nationals who have suffered under the cruel hands of perpertrators of what are recognnized as international crimes. The domestication of the Rome Statute by States Parties has largely been driven by the desire to capacitate national criminal justice systems to investigate and prosecute individuals who have committed international crimes within a nation-state. These efforts to ensure that the national criminal justice systems and the ICC are complementary are to be lauded. However, nation-states also need to embark on a comprehesive and coordinated approach to law-making, policy and institutional design that is victim-centered to alleviate the burden on a strained international criminal justice system and provide access at the local level to victims of international crimes.

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