International Criminal Court: a Focus on Victims

  • 2012-09-05

Be it CNN,  BBC, France 24, YLE or Eesti Televisioon, the past months have been a lot about Syria: how to end the violence, how to give people back their normal lives, whether the International Criminal Court  (ICC) should get involved and investigate. Last year, in a comparable situation in Libya the United Nations Security Council swiftly referred Libya to the ICC.

In moments like these virtually everyone in the world all of a sudden gets reminded of the International Criminal Court.
Except for the prominent flash attention from the international media, the everyday life at the court is somewhat less visible, but not less complicated than the two examples mentioned above. There are many facets to the work of the Court and much of it depends on daily support of states that have joined the 1998 Statute, by which the institution came into being 10 years ago. Their number now stands at 121, getting very close to two thirds of countries in the world. They have voluntarily committed themselves to fight against impunity for the most serious international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is true that each country sets out its foreign policy priorities according to its long-term interests that are also weighed against the background of past experiences. In this context, Finland and Estonia have ample reasons to support the Court, even if its current activities – fortunately – focus far from home.

Atrocity crimes falling under the founding document of the court, the Rome Statute, are committed on a large scale, sometimes by the very same persons who are looked upon for protection. We have seen children made into combatants - and so, into targets of violence. Rape and other gender-based violence is used as a weapon to systematically destroy people’s lives and identities as worthy members of society – and so, to destroy communities.
Under the Rome Statute, victims may receive reparations, as ordered by the Court, as well as general assistance through the Trust Fund for Victims. They also have a right to be heard, to be recognized and to rebuild their lives as human beings, - not just as “victims.”

The way the Rome Statute approaches victims is one of the most important innovations of international justice and a direct example of lessons learned from earlier international criminal tribunals, (i.e. Nuremberg, Rwanda, Cambodia, Yugoslavia or Sierra Leone Tribunals). These tribunals did not have a mechanism to provide any support for victims during the judiciary process and also at the end, after the conviction. Therefore, victims in those situations never felt directly recognized and they never received either rehabilitation assistance or reparations.

After several years in operation, we are proud to say that the Trust Fund for Victims is delivering value for money. With an annual turnover of less than 3 million euros, it provides medical and psycho-social services, as well as material support, to over 80,000 victims and their families. But for us, the word “value” carries a deeper meaning. The Trust Fund for Victims aims to create value, through the rehabilitation and reparation of victims. Because at the end of the day, international justice is as much about the hope, dignity and restoration of victims, as it is about the accountability of perpetrators.

“The perpetrator pays”: this is the financial construction for reparations at the heart of the Rome Statute. And we believe it should stay there. The potential of the Court - and of the States Parties - to obtain assets of the accused for the purpose of reparations to victims must be fully used. We urge the States Parties to assist in tracing, freezing and seizing the assets that eventually benefit victims in a reparations phase.  For the time being, however, the programs of the Fund are depending on voluntary contributions.

On September 10 and 11 Finland and Estonia are convening a conference to bring forward the international discussion on victims of the most serious international crimes and thus continue working together on a global  issue extending far beyond the borders of Nordic-Baltic region and of Europe. The Tallinn conference comes at an extremely interesting moment, following the first ICC reparations decision in the case of Thomas Lubanga, who was found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For the first time we are embarking on the journey to make Court-ordered reparations to victims a meaningful undertaking. This requires resources, since Mr. Lubanga himself does not have assets.

The Tallinn conference will provide for an opportunity to consider the bigger picture of the role and position of victims in international law, as well as more specific - and sometimes pressing - issues related to the functioning of institutions created by the Rome Statute and the promises made by the international community in 1998, in the political and financial circumstances of those days.   We should translate these promises into recommendations that make sense from both a substantive and financial perspective in 2012 and beyond.


Tiina Intelmann
President of the Assembly of States Parties
to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Elisabeth Rehn
Chair of the Board of Directors
of the Trust Fund for Victims,
International Criminal Court