“Until now there was no guide for victims participating in proceedings before international courts,” said Judge Ivana Hrdličková, President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), during a book presentation at the Asser Institute in The Hague.
Victim Participation in International Criminal Justice – Practitioners’ Guide, edited by Megan Hirst and Dr Kinga Tibori-Szabó, tries to fill that gap. Lawyers who have worked on the Kenya cases at the ICC, like Mariana Pena and Anushka Sehmi, have contributed chapters in the book.
There is already lots of academic, theoretical writing about victims’ participation, what is needed for people working in the field, is a practical guide, Ms Hirst explained during the panel discussion. All jurisprudence from international courts like the ICC and the STL is collected in one place. You do not only need legal skills to be a good representative of victims, Dr Tibori-Szabó notes, and adds “When you look out of the window or at your watch while you talk to them, you can lose their trust.”
By writing one book about several international(ised) courts (Tibori-Szabó works at the Kosovo Tribunal, Hirst is a legal representative of victims in the Ongwen case about Northern Uganda at the ICC), the authors hope to promote some “comparative thinking” to improve procedures, Hirst said. Procedures for victims participation at the ICC are “cumbersome”. Much time is lost by redacting the victims’ application forms to conceal their identity from the defence. The Assembly of States Parties (ASP), always concerned that the ICC is too expensive, might change the rules drawing inspiration from the STL, where these work-intensive efforts to conceal the victims’ identity from the defence are not made.
It is also partly for financial reasons that victims don’t always have the freedom to appoint a lawyer of their choice. Such a court-imposed lawyer can become “a person standing between the victims and the institution,” Hirst says.
According to her, the victims application process at the ICC is “fundamentally failing” because it is “cumbersome and slow”. As it implies so much work for judges, registry and participants, the chamber in the Ongwen case ruled the application process can’t go on once the trial has started. Therefore, a deadline for applications was imposed. At that point only 4,000 victims from Northern Uganda had applied, while according to a “conservative estimate” (Hirst), some 30,000 were eligible for the status of victim participant.
The ICC might rethink its individual victims recognition procedure before President Omar el-Bashir of Sudan is arrested, Hirst suggests: In that case one million victims from Darfur might file an application.
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