[Mélanie Vianney-Liaud is a PhD Candidate at the Aix-Marseille University, III, France.]
At the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), victims are granted procedural rights to participate in their personal capacity. However, in both courts, victim participation is challenging since mass crimes make thousands of victims. The crimes perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, for example, caused the death of nearly 1.7 million people. Legally speaking, the victims are those who have suffered harm as a result of a crime, namely the act(s) or omission(s) reproached to the accused in a criminal trial. Consequently, given the widespread scale of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, almost the whole Cambodian population could claim victim status at the ECCC. This raises the question of how to ensure victims effective procedural rights in criminal proceedings whereas they are so many.
Several options have been contemplated. Victim participation status at the ICC and ECCC are different. The purpose of this post is to show that despite such differences, the exercise of victims’ rights is extremely restricted in both courts to the point that, today, there is no effective and useful victim participation in international criminal proceedings.
At the ICC
At the ICC, victims’ participation stems from the will of the States which negotiated the Rome Statute. Article 68.3 provides that :
Where the personal interests of the victims are affected, the Court shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered (…). Such views and concerns may be presented by the legal representatives of the victims where the Court considers it appropriate (…).
However, neither the Rome Statute nor the ICC Rules of procedure and Evidence determine the modalities of victim participation. It is left to the judges to set such rules (ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Rule 89.1). Thus, at the ICC, victim participation depends on each Chamber and varies in each case. For example, in the Katanga and Ngudjolo Chui case, the Trial Chamber II decided that the victims’ legal representatives « must be able to consult all of the public and confidential decisions and documents in the record of the case » (Decision on the Modalities of Victim Participation at Trial, § 121) whereas in the Bemba Gombo case, the Trial Chamber III limited legal representatives’ access to confidential material « relevant to their views and concerns » (Decision on the Participation of Victims in Trial, § 47).
With the exception of the Pre-Trial Chamber I in the Katanga and Ngudjolo Chui case, all ICC Chambers adopted a casuistic approach. Thus, for example, in the Lubanga case, the Trial Chamber I held that « in order to participate at a specific stage in the proceedings, e.g. during the examination of a particular witness or the discussion of a particular legal issue or type of evidence, a victim is required to show, in a discrete written application, the reasons why her interests are affected by the evidence or issue then arising in the case » (Decision on Victims’ Participation, § 96). Consequently, in the trial of Bemba Gombo, to have access to confidential documents, the legal representatives need file a request in which they shall show how the interests of their clients are affected by such documents without knowing their content. This puts the legal representatives in a tricky situation since they have to speculate on how that content might concern their clients in order to motive their participation.
The Pre-Trial Chamber I in Katanga and Ngudjolo Chui considered that the casuistic approach – where « victims are required to ask for the leave of the competent Chamber to perform the most simple procedural activity » – makes the rights attributed to those granted the status of victim « purely symbolic » (Decision on the Set of Procedural Rights Attached to Procedural Status of Victim at the Pre-Trial Stage of the Case, § 51).
At the ECCC
At the ECCC, victim participation was not provided by the Chambers’ creators (i.e. the United Nations and the Cambodian Governement). It stems from the judges who set the modalities of victim participation, as at the ICC. However, contrary to the ICC, such rules are not determined in a decision of the competent Chamber in each case. They were established in the ECCC Internal Rules. The judges based on the victim status in Cambodian law. Thus, according to Rule 23.1, victims participate as « civil parties » in the ECCC proceedings. They enjoy important procedural rights that they exercise throughout the whole criminal proceedings, either directly or through their lawyers, without having to ask the Chamber for permission. For instance, at the investigation stage, civil parties may request investigation action (Rule 55.10). At trial, they may question witnesses (Rule 91.2), and even the accused (Rule 90.2). Civil parties may also appeal the verdict of the Trial Chamber, when Prosecutors have appealed (Rule 105.1). In order to effectively exercise such rights, civil parties and their lawyers have access to the whole case file (i.e. the record of the case) at each stage of the proceedings (see Rules 55.11 and 86).
The fact that victims’ rights are included in the Internal Rules may imply that ECCC victims enjoy a higher legal security than at the ICC, since their legal status should less depend on judges’ discretion in each case. However, ECCC Internal Rules were amended several times, and the modalities of civil party participation have not been spared by such revisions. Particularly, during the sixth Internal Rules’ revision session in 2010, the relevant provisions were modified for ensuring effective proceedings in Case 002, ECCC’s most important case in which the last surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are indicted. The new provisions introduced two original creations. Firstly, according to new Rule 23.3, the whole civil parties of Case 002 (about 4,000 victims) have been gathered in a single, consolidated group at trial who, secondly, is represented by two lead co-lawyers designated by the Court.
In 2011, the Trial Chamber separated Case 002 trial proceedings in relation to the charges of the indictment in order to conduct several manageable « mini-trials ». Thus, the scope of Case 002/01, the first small trial, included only crimes against humanity committed during the course of two phases of movement of population, and executions of Khmer Republic officials at the execution site of Tuol Po Chrey. According to Case 002 Indictment, 1018 civil parties were declared admissible in the context of the movements of population (§§ 261, 354) and 20 with regards to Tuol Po Chrey (§ 714). However, in the 2011 decision, the Trial Chamber determined that because civil parties « no longer participate individually …, but instead as a consolidated group [with] collective interests …, limiting the scope of the facts to be tried during the first trial … has no impact on the nature of civil party participation at trial » (Severance Order Pursuant to Internal Rule 89ter, § 8). Consequently, the Trial Chamber did not sever the consolidated group of civil parties in order to keep only the victims concerned by the crimes tried in Case 002/01. Therefore, a litte less than 3,000 civil parties participated in Case 002/01 whereas their prejudice had no causal link with the crimes reproached to the accused within that trial. Such a participation means that victims at the ECCC are not considered as real legal actors but rather as mere ornaments.
Despite promising starts, in both ICC and ECCC, victim participation has rapidly been restricted to move towards a symbolic involvment. Such a practice calls into question the pertinence and interest of victim participation in international criminal proceedings.
Admittedly, granting hundreds or even thousands victims the opportunity to participate in person is clearly materially impossible. From a legal point of view, the balancing of the accused’s rights with victims’ rights raises considerable conceptual difficulties. The fears and suspicion caused by victim participation are, therefore, understandable.
However, victims, even if they are many, are not symbols. They deserve the opportunity to really participate in the criminal proceedings which affect them, as soon as this right is granted to them. Some ICC and ECCC’s judges have recognised the various interests of victims participating in the proceedings of both courts (see e.g., ICC, Decision on the Set of Procedural Rights Attached to Procedural Status of Victim at the Pre-Trial Stage of the Case, §§ 31-43 and ECCC, Decision on Civil Party Participation in Provisional Detention Appeals, § 40). However, it shall also be recognized that international criminal proceedings take advantage of victim participation.