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May 27, 2010

Victims’ views take centre stage at ICC Review Conference

By VRWG

The Review Conference of the International Criminal Court is taking place from Monday 31 May to Friday 11 June 2010 in Kampala, Uganda. The Rome Statute of the ICC provides that seven years after the entry into force of the Statute, a diplomatic conference shall review the Statute. Amongst the items on the agenda are amendment proposals on the list of prohibited weapons under the definition of war crimes, as well as adopting a definition for the Crime of Aggression.

One of the expectations of this Review Conference is that it will underscore the importance of international criminal justice from the perspective of victims. Victims are no longer the silent bystanders who must suffer in silence; mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court are there to provide victims’ with an independent voice, to enable them to be heard in safety and dignity and to ensure that they achieve justice that is meaningful. Victims are key stakeholders and participants in the justice process. There are hundreds of civil society representatives coming to Kampala from all parts of Africa and from all regions of the world – this solidarity is a vital statement on the importance of the Court; civil society stands firmly with the objectives of justice.

In terms of reviewing the progress made since the Rome Statute entered into force, there are several challenges that stand out. There is the huge challenge of protecting victims and witnesses and those that assist them. Many of the countries and regions where the Court is active remain insecure with ongoing conflicts, where perpetrators or their associates may still be active. Ensuring that those who assist the Court, including grassroots organisations are protected is vital to the long-term success of the Court. There is also the challenge of ensuring that the Court’s work is meaningful to victims and that the Court is able to afford reparations to victims in accordance with its mandate.

The Review Conference will be undertaking a “stocktaking” exercise in four areas, with a half day plenary session on each of the following: peace and justice, the impact of the Rome Statute system on victims and affected communities, complementarity and cooperation.

The Victims’ Rights Working Group, has been highly engaged in one particular agenda item – the stocktaking on the impact of the International Criminal Court system on victims and affected communities. We have issued a report: “The Impact of the ICC on victims and affected communities” , which compiled responses to a questionnaire disseminated globally through the Victims’ Rights Working Group. The report concludes that all the areas of stocktaking are relevant to victims. For instance, one of the most prevalent responses from victims’ communities in Uganda was that the ICC had in a subtle way promoted peace, enabling return from IDP camps to villages. Another area is the impact the ICC has had on victims’ rights at a national level. This could be considered as part of the discussions on complementarity, but is also relevant to victims.

Many civil society organisations working with victims have detailed how the arrival of the ICC in the transitional justice context has opened up a dialogue about victims’ rights given that victims’ rights are so highly profiled in the ICC Statute (victims have the right to present their views and concerns as appropriate, they have a right to protection and support, a right to legal representation and may claim reparation at the end of the process, seeking compensation, rehabilitation).

As civil society in the countries where the ICC is investigating have come to learn about the ICC’s process, they have drawn parallels with their own systems. In Uganda for instance the Uganda Victims Foundation has been raising the rights of victims at national level in relation to the functioning of the newly created special division of the high court in Uganda.

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