Who will oversee the victims at the ICC?

13 March 2006 by HEIKELINA VERRIJN STUART

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first international tribunal to allow victims to actively participate. The trial chamber's January 17 ruling allows six victims to get involved at a very early stage of the proceedings - during the investigations that the ICC is conducting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On January 23, the prosecutor filed an application for leave to appeal this decision he strongly opposes. From his point of view, "the broad scope of victim participation envisioned creates a serious imbalance between victims and any future accused persons", and admitting them at the investigation stage could lead the chamber to "premature and inappropriate factual conclusions".

Even though no arrest warrants have been issued yet in the Congo case and the ICC's victims' trust fund has barely been activated, the judges in Pre-Trial Chamber I, presided by French judge Claude Jorda [read our interview in IJT-38], have just rendered one of the first major decisions in the history of the court. The ruling notes that the new role given to victims is "consistent with the object and purpose of the victims participation regime established by the drafters of the Statute, which ensued from a debate that took place in the context of the growing emphasis placed on the role of victims by the international body of human rights law and by international humanitarian law." NGOs are praising this highly symbolic decision [see box above], which will nevertheless have consequences for the future trials.

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