The Victims’ Court? A Study of 622 Victim Participants at the International Criminal Court


The Victims’ Court? A Study of 622 Victim Participants at the International Criminal Court


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When the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created in 1998, its founders hailed it as a “victims’ court,” one that would give survivors of mass atrocity an influential voice in the administration of justice. In the nearly two decades since its establishment, thousands of victims have been registered as “victim participants,” and thousands more have applied to the court for acceptance. However, there is now widespread agreement, both inside and outside of the court, that the ICC victim participation programs need reform. Court staff and outside observers have argued that current levels of outreach, care, and support are inadequate and incorporation of the views of so many victims is unworkable. Both defense and prosecution teams have also questioned whether victims’ representations, filings, and testimony have sometimes had an adverse effect on the fairness of ICC trials.

But what of the victim participants themselves? What motivated these men and women to become victim participants? Was it to tell their story and to have it acknowledged by the court? Did they wish to see the accused punished? Or was it more important to receive reparations for the harms they suffered? What did they think of the process of becoming a victim participant? What were their perceptions of the court and how it operated? How were their interactions with court staff? And did they have security or safety concerns?

To explore these and other questions, we interviewed ICC victim participants in four countries where the ICC had initiated investigations and prosecutions of serious international crimes — Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire. Our interviews with 622 victim participants and dozens of key informants strongly suggest that the ICC has reached a critical juncture in its victim participation program. It is our view that the court must either invest more resources and think more creatively about how it can meet the pragmatic and psychosocial needs of victim participants in its present form or revamp the program entirely. Despite admirable efforts by ICC staff, both in The Hague and in victims’ home countries, most victim participants, our findings indicate, have only a rudimentary knowledge of the ICC and its mandate. They want more contact with the court, are deeply frustrated by the slow pace of the proceedings, and expect to receive individual reparations. What remains to be seen is if the ICC (and the states that support it) can make the necessary reforms to meet these expectations.

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Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law




International Criminal Court, Victim Participation, Procedural Justice, Transitional Justice


Human Rights Law | International Law

The Victims’ Court? A Study of 622 Victim Participants at the International Criminal Court