An analysis of the difficulties related to victim participation before the International Criminal Court and the Extraordinary Chambers in the courts of Cambodia
Katonene, Peter Mwesigwa
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By any standard, victim participation is a relatively new phenomenon in international criminal law proceedings. Incredible advances have been made in the effort to end impunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and, more recently, aggression. As a result, great strides have been made in ensuring the direct participation of victims of grave violations of human rights in court proceedings against their perpetrators. Prior to this, grave violations of human rights committed during conflicts or periods of mass violence were either largely ignored or even if action was taken, victims of the crimes hardly had a ‘say’ in the proceedings. With the advent of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) a new dawn in the proceedings of international criminal law has emerged. The statutes that govern the ICC and ECCC have given a voice to victims in court proceeding buy ensuring victims participation. Despite these advances, scholars have criticized victim participation for being inconsistent in its application at the International Criminal Court. The criticism has come from scholars who have highlighted the unintended consequences of victim participation in court proceedings, arguing that their participation has resulted in the under- or misrepresentation of the actual experience of survivors of war, mass violence, or repression. These problems have arisen largely because the need to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused and to protect their due process rights, to abide by the rules of evidence and procedure, and to conserve judicial resources all cut against victim-witnesses' ability to tell their stories at these tribunals thereby resulting in a limited, and sometimes inaccurate, record of victims' experience. Background: The idea that victims should be allowed to participate in international criminal proceedings stems from a broader movement over the last several decades advocating for restorative, as opposed to merely retributive justice. Proponents of this restorative justice movement maintain that “justice should not only address traditional retributive justice, i.e., punishment of the guilty, but should also provide a measure of restorative justice by, inter alia, allowing victims to participate in the proceedings and by providing compensation to victims for their injuries.” In other words, advocates of this movement believe that criminal justice mechanisms should serve the interests of victims, in addition to punishing wrongdoers, and that the participation of victims in criminal proceedings is an integral part of serving victims' interests. Although the concept of victim participation in criminal proceedings is not easily defined, it has been described as victims “being in control, having a say, being listened to, or being treated with dignity and respect.” Human rights activists supported the concept for several reasons. Many believed, as did victim advocates more generally, that participation in criminal proceedings has a number of potential restorative benefits, including the promotion of victims' “healing and rehabilitation.” Indeed, in its recommendations to the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of the International Criminal Court (Preparatory Committee I), “participation is significant not only to protecting the rights of the victim at various stages of the proceeding, but also to advancing the process of healing from trauma and degradation.” Some believed that victim participation would bring the court “closer to the persons who have suffered atrocities” and thus increase the likelihood that victims would be satisfied that justice was done. set of recommendations on the ICC elements of crimes and rules of procedure and evidence, noted “the right of victims to participate in the proceedings was included in the Rome Statute to ensure that the process is as respectful and transparent as possible so that justice can be seen to be done . . .” Finally, and significantly for the purpose of this study, human rights activists thought that victim participation might help address the under- or misrepresentation of the experiences of victims. Research questions and objectives of the study: The question this research paper poses is whether victim participation has increased the visibility of the actual lived experience of survivors in the context of war, mass violence, or repression? Under the Rome Statute, victims of the world's most serious crimes were given unprecedented rights to participate in proceedings before the court. Nearly a decade later, a similar scheme was established to allow victims to participate as civil parties in the proceedings before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, created with UN support to prosecute atrocities committed by leaders of the Khmer Rouge during the period of 1975 to 1979. Although there are some significant differences in how the schemes work at the ICC and ECCC, both courts allow victims to participate in criminal proceedings independent of their role as witnesses for either the prosecution or defence. In other words, both have victim participation schemes intended to give victims a voice in the proceedings. Have these new participation schemes before the ICC and ECCC, in fact, helped in satisfying the victims? What impact have they had on the ability of survivors of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to tell their story and to talk about their experiences in their own words? In particular, has victim participation enabled more of them to tell their stories than would have been possible under the more traditional adversarial model employed by the ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Has it allowed them to expand the historical record produced by these tribunals with narratives that would otherwise have been left out because of prosecutorial or judicial decisions not to prosecute violations committed against them? Has it enabled victims to communicate a richer, more nuanced picture of their experiences than they were able to in the context of prior tribunals? The aim is to explore whether these novel victim participation schemes, as implemented by the ICC and ECCC thus far, have actually allowed for greater recognition of victims' voices and experiences than was possible in proceedings before their predecessor tribunals. Have these schemes actually allowed victims to communicate a fuller and more nuanced picture of their experiences than they would have been able to do as victim-witnesses before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)? In other words, can the victim participation schemes at the ICC answer the call for increased visibility of the actual lived experience of survivors of human rights violations in the context of war, mass violence, or repression?.