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«Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008 Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court Elisabeth Baumgartner* ...»

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Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008

Aspects of victim

participation in the

proceedings of the

International Criminal


Elisabeth Baumgartner*

Elisabeth Baumgartner is a legal adviser in the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special

Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).


The participation of victims in criminal proceedings is generally a rather new

phenomenon. While there is a certain tradition of victim participation as ‘‘partie

civile’’ in the criminal proceedings of some national jurisdictions, it is a novelty in international criminal trials. The drafters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute chose to design a rather broad victim participation scheme. Although it is hailed as an important and effective instrument for giving victims of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law a voice, the procedural and substantive details are far from being settled. Some of the most significant issues are discussed in this article, including the question whether and how victim participation may influence sentencing and punishment.

The participation of victims in criminal proceedings is generally a rather new phenomenon – and is still far from being fully accepted.1 Victims have played and continue to play a marginal role in the precedents of the International Criminal Court (ICC);2 they are seen as nothing more than witnesses, and in those precedents neither participation nor compensation schemes exists.3 Influenced by a strong tendency in national and international law to acknowledge victims’ views * The author would like to thank Anne-Marie La Rosa for her very useful comments on an earlier draft.

This article covers jurisprudence and literature rendered and published until April 2008.

E. Baumgartner – Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court in criminal proceedings, which was supported by a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and states, a relatively broad victim participation scheme was finally drafted for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (the Statute).4 It is today widely considered as an instrument to give victims of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law a voice and to promote reconciliation.5 Yet, serious concerns exist as to whether victims should be allowed to participate in such an extensive manner, and whether such participation is in the interests of justice, a fair and efficient trial and finally the victims themselves. However, this article will not explore the purpose of victim participation in criminal proceedings assuch. Nor will it cover the broad issue of its impact on the individual or the society as a whole, for instance whether victim participation as it now stands in the ICC procedure is generally of any legal, economic and psychological benefit for the victims, although such considerations are obviously the motivation and underlying reason for it. Theses issues are largely covered in the article by Mina Rauschenbach and Damien Scalia.6 The aim here is instead to analyse the procedural aspects of the ICC’s victim participation scheme, its implementation by the organs of the Court and its possible influence on the concept of punishment and sentencing in international criminal law, and to point out certain difficulties in the interpretation of the relevant provisions.

–  –  –

Outline of the ICC victim participation framework The broad wording of the provisions on victim participation in the ICC’s constitutive documents suggests that the drafters intended to leave wide discretion to the judges in actually shaping the Court’s victim participation scheme.7 However, that broad and at times not entirely consistent drafting raises a multitude of complex legal issues, with both substantive and procedural implications. The first decisions rendered by the ICC Pre-Trial Chambers8 on victim issues give an initial idea of the subject’s complexity. Article 68 of the Statute – the core provision on victim issues – lays down the basic rule on victim participation in the proceedings in its paragraph 3, which reads: ‘‘where the personal interests of the victims are affected, the Court shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered at stages of the proceedings determined to be appropriate by the Court’’. Such participation should, however, not be ‘‘prejudicial to or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial’’. The views and concerns of victims ‘‘may be presented by [their] legal representatives … where the Court considers it appropriate, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Evidence’’. It is complemented by a whole set of provisions that shed light on what is meant by ‘‘shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered’’. They are partly contained in the Statute itself, but mostly in the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence (the Rules),9 and relate to victim definition, participation, legal representation, notification and other central procedural issues. Some of the issues were decided by Pre-Trial, Trial Chamber and Appeals Chamber judges after the first important victim-related decision of 17 January 2006 (the 17 January 2006 decision).10 Almost exactly two years later, on 18 January 2008, Trial Chamber I rendered another ‘‘landmark decision’’ on the issue of victim participation11 (the 18 January 2008 decision).

Prior to the decision, Trial Chamber I invited all parties and participants to make submissions on the ‘‘role of victims in the proceedings leading up to, and during, 7 Emily Haslam, ‘‘Victim participation at the International Criminal Court: a triumph of hope over experience?’’ in Dominic McGoldrick et al. (eds.), The Permanent International Criminal Court: Legal and Policy Issues, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2004, pp. 315 ff., 324.

8 The abbreviation PTC I is used below to refer to Pre-Trial Chamber I, and PTC II for Pre-Trial Chamber II.

9 ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence, UN Doc. PCNICC/2000/1/Add.1 (2000), ICC-ASP/1/3, 09.

10 17.01.2006, Decision on the Applications for Participation in the Proceedings of VPRS 1, VPRS 2, VPRS 3, VPRS 4, VPRS 5 and VPRS 6 (Public redacted version – 22.03.2006), ICC-01/04-101-Corr. Pre-Trial Chamber I had admitted a group of applicants to participate as victims in the investigation proceedings when examining the situation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Prosecutor referred to this group of victims as ‘‘situation victims’’, as opposed to ‘‘case victims’’; e.g. in 25.06.2007 Prosecution’s Reply under Rule 89(1) to the Applications for Participation of Applicants a/0106/06 to a/0110/06, a/ 0128/06 to a/0162/06, a/0188/06, a/0199/06, a/0203/06, a/0209/06, a/0214/06, a/0220/06 to a/0222/06 ´ˆ and a/0224/06 to a/0250/06, ICC-01/04-346, pp. 11 f. For comments see Jerome de Hemptinne and Francesco Rindi, ‘‘ICC Pre-Trial Chamber allows victims to participate in the investigation phase of proceedings’’, Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 4 (2006), pp. 342 ff.

11 18.01.2008 Trial Chamber I Decision on Victims’ Participation, ICC-01/04-01/06-1119. This decision formed part of the preparation of the trial proceedings in the case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (hereinafter the Lubanga case).

E. Baumgartner – Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court the trial’’.12 Based on these submissions and prior pronouncements by the different chambers, the said decision was intended ‘‘to provide the parties and participants with general guidelines on all matters related to the participation of victims throughout the proceedings’’.13 Nonetheless, many questions concerning victim participation remain controversial and are still pending: one of the three judges dissented14 and both parties15 filed an application for leave to appeal, which was finally granted by Trial Chamber I.16 Undefined legal terms need to be clarified, such as ‘‘personal interests’’, ‘‘presentation of views and concerns’’ and ‘‘appropriate’’ stages of the proceedings, as do the requirements for such presentations, the content of the participation right and issues of standard of proof. The issue of victim participation at the investigation stage and its implications for the balance of interests, as well as the general problems linked to prejudice and inconsistency with the rights of the accused and with principles of fair trial, still have to be resolved. Furthermore, practical issues such as identification of the applicants, the legal representation of victims, collective participation of large victim groups and the form and modalities of presentations need to be assessed. Since leave to appeal has been granted, some of those issues will be settled by the Appeals Chamber.17 Various participation regimes The structure of the Statute and Rules, mainly outlined in Rule 92(1), suggests that the drafters created various victim participation schemes. At least two are easy to

–  –  –

identify: the submission of ‘‘representations’’ and ‘‘observations’’, and participation stricto sensu.18 The first participation scheme, specifically provided for in Articles 15(3) (authorization of investigations initiated by the Prosecutor ex proprio motu) and 19(3) of the Statute (challenges to the jurisdiction of the Court or the admissibility of a case), takes effect at an early and crucial stage, when the initiation or continuation of the proceedings is at stake. In Article 15 of the Statute, victim participation appears as the logical consequence of the Prosecutor’s proprio motu investigation, for which victims constitute an important source of information.19 With regard to Article 19(3) of the Statute, observations submitted by victims are essential to assess challenges to jurisdiction or admissibility by states or by the defendant, as they provide for a more objective point of view that is linked neither to political nor to individual interests, since it is not directly linked to the reparation regime. No formal application procedure seems to be necessary for these forms of participation, which consist of ‘‘submitting observations’’ and ‘‘making representations’’.20 Nevertheless, the question remains as to how the victims will be chosen, how their credibility is assessed and how the information obtained is used and corroborated.

The more complex, second participation scheme, under Article 68(3) of the Statute and Rules 89 et seq., entails an application procedure pursuant to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and the Rules of the Court21 and provides for broader participation.

Finally, a specific victim participation scheme has been established with regard to the reparation procedure in Article 75 of the Statute. The inclusion of a possibility of obtaining reparation for victims, similar to ‘‘adhesive procedures’’ 18 Regulated generally by Article 68(3) of the Statute and Rule 89 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence ´ ´ (RPE). See Carsten Stahn, Hector Olasolo and Kate Gibson, ‘‘Participation of victims in pre-trial proceedings of the ICC’’, Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 4 (2006), pp. 219 ff., 224 f. The authors suggest that there are three participation regimes, differentiating between the scheme under Article 53(3) and (61) of the Statute and the ‘‘seeking the views of victims’’ by a chamber pursuant to Rule 93 of the RPE. However, it is questionable whether the latter really constitutes an extra participation scheme, or instead indicates where the Court should seek the views of the victims admitted in accordance with Article 68(3) of the Statute and Rules 85 to 93 of the RPE. Similarly, Gilbert Bitti and Hakan Friman, ‘‘Participation of victims in the proceedings’’, in Lee Roy et al. (eds.), The International Criminal Court: Elements of Crimes and Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Transnational Publishers, Ardsley, New York, 2001, pp. 456 ff., 459.

´ 19 Morten Bergsmo and Jelena Pejic, ‘‘Article 15: Prosecutor’’, in Triffterer, above note 4, p. 369, para. 24.

20 Birte Timm, ‘‘The legal position of victims in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence’’, in Horst Fischer et al. (eds.), International and National Prosecution of Crimes under International Law: Current Developments, Arno Spitz Verlag, Berlin, 2001, pp. 289 ff., 293 f. Participation might be reserved for victim organizations or groups of victims.

21 The application procedure will not be discussed in this article. Rule 89 of the RPE describes the application procedure by written application to the Registrar, who then provides a copy of the application to the prosecution and the defence. They are then entitled to reply within a time limit set by the chamber in charge. The chamber can either accept the application and specify the appropriate proceedings and manner of participation, or reject the application if it considers that the person is not a victim or that the criteria set forth in Article 68(3) of the Statute are not fulfilled in any other form. If an application has been rejected, there is no remedy against the decision, but he or she can file a new application later in the proceedings.

E. Baumgartner – Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court known in civil law systems,22 is considered as revolutionary in international criminal law.23 Although integrated in the course of the regular procedure, it forms a kind of extra ‘‘civil action’’ procedure that is reflected in the separate procedural regime.24

Victims of a situation and victims of a case

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