ASF’s annual report is available!

The Avocats Sans Frontières team is delighted to present its latest annual report.

We have come a long way since ASF was founded in 1992 by a group of Belgian lawyers. Over these 30 years, hundreds of people have contributed to making the organisation what it is today: a militant organisation active in a dozen countries, working to promote access to justice and the rule of law based on human rights, in close collaboration with local actors.

These thirty years of action, the local roots we have developed and the links we have forged with human rights defenders from the four corners of the world give us a great deal of strength and confidence as we look to the future and continue to deploy impactful action in the service of populations in vulnerable situations (women, children, the LGBTQI+ community, ethnic minorities, people in detention, people in migration, etc.).

But the challenges are many. All over the world, civil society organisations and human rights defenders are faced with worrying developments and trends: the rise of authoritarianism, the shrinking of civic space, growing public distrust of institutions, heightened social tensions, etc.

Defenders of human rights and access to justice have to work in contexts that are increasingly hostile to them. The very notions of human rights and the rule of law are being called into question. Activists, lawyers and journalists working to defend the fundamental rights of populations in vulnerable situations are increasingly systematically targeted by repressive policies.

Every page of this report bears witness to the vigour of the flame that drives those who are committed to upholding human rights at the very heart of our societies, at the risk and peril of their own freedom. This report is a tribute to each and every one of them.

ExPEERience Talk #9 – Using digital to support victims and promote justice: the Back-up project of We are NOT Weapons of War

  • When? Thursday, 4 May 20231pm (Brussels)
  • Language of the presentation: French
  • Online (Big Blue Button)

For this 9th ExPEERience Talk, we are delighted to welcome Céline Bardet, founder of the organisation We are NOT Weapons of War (WWOW) whose mandate is to fight sexual violence in conflicts, in particular against rape as a weapon of war. She will talk about the importance, in the face of these issues, of support – particularly legal – for victims, but also of awareness-raising and advocacy on a global scale.

During this Talk, Céline Bardet will present the development process of the Back Up project, launched by WWOW in 2018. This project aims to address the three major challenges posed by war rape: the inability for victims to access appropriate services; the lack of coordination of the professionals involved; and the lack of reliable data on the extent of sexual violence in conflicts. It is a digital tool, accessible on mobile phones, encrypted and secure, which allows victims to report and transmit evidence, and professionals involved to better coordinate. After an initial pilot phase, Back Up is now being deployed in several countries, including Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This Talk will be an opportunity to present the genesis of the project, as well as the development and functioning of the tool. What was the process used to make it a tool that best meets the real needs of victims and that can be easily used by everyone, even in the most fragile contexts? How can we ensure the security of the data collected andthe security of the victims? What is the process for the appropriation of the tool, in wartime contexts, by local partners and victims? Céline Bardet will discuss the development methodology and the scope of this digital project, which serves not only the victims but also the collection of evidence and data and, ultimately, advocacy against sexual violence in conflicts.

Thomas Kwoyelo trial: Prosecution moves close to wind-up presenting its witness

ASF working with victims

“Any further delay with this trial is a dark spot on our part as Judiciary” – ICD

The Trial of Thomas Kwoyelo resumed on 17th April 2023 and is scheduled to run up to the end of the month at the International Crimes Division of the High Court (ICD) sitting at Gulu High Court in Gulu City, Northern Uganda.

Having commenced the trial on 24th September 2018, the court had its first prosecution witnesses testify in March 2019 and since then trial sessions have been held periodically between Kampala and Gulu. The most recent was in Gulu between 28th November and 15th December 2022 where 14 prosecution witnesses were prepared and presented to substantiate the grounds against the accused, bringing the total number to 48 prosecution witnesses so far.

In an interview with a member of the prosecution team he confirmed that the case has close to 120 witnesses but that not all of these will be presented, to avoid repetitive evidence.

“We are reviewing available evidence and picking the best among the pool. Some Witnesses are aging and losing memory while others have since passed on, so from what is available, we evaluate and pick the best from the stock”

Counsel Charles Kamuli- Prosecution team member

It is hoped that within these two weeks, Prosecution will be able to close presenting its witnesses. This will pave way for the defense team to begin presenting their own witnesses in the next sessions later in the quarter pending availability of funds. Later there will be a victims’ session where the victims’ counsel will present their own witnesses.

Thomas Kwoyelo, captured in 2009 by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, is arguably one of the longest-accused persons on pre-trial detention in the history of International Criminal Justice. To ensure that the case progresses, the ICD set a timeframe of holding quarterly sessions, but there has been a lack of consistency in practice. However, the court believes it can conclude the case within one and a half years, provided that funds continue to be released quarterly as planned.  “This delay is a dark spot on our part as the judiciary in as far as justice is concerned”, said the Head of the ICD who is also an alternate judge in this case.  “The victims are so concerned, and so is the accused; he is not being tried as he should, having been in incarceration since 2009. Now that the government has committed resources, we are all committed to pushing the case forward” the Head of the ICD remarked.

The defense team though, in a separate interview, held a different viewpoint on the timeframe within which this trial will be concluded given the uniqueness of the trial and the pace at which things are moving forward:

“Given the uniqueness of the case, a witness needs ample time to narrate their story and share their account, you can’t tell how long that story is, they need time. It takes time to call upon a witness to recollect that painful ordeal that happened 20 years ago and often times this leads to a psychological breakdown during the thought process. In such situations, the court cannot proceed, it has to be adjourned to give the witness time to get composed and put themselves together.”

Counsel Evans Ochieng, a Defense team member

The trial is proceeding at a very slow pace due to the insufficient financial resources that are required for a trial process that involves so many parties. The trial has four Judges, four prosecutors, four defense attorneys, two victim counsels, and a huge team of court staff including the IT team setting up the video links, the Court Assessors, the Interpretation team, court clerks, the rapporteurs, the documentation team, media team and so forth.

“It’s hard to project when the case will end especially in situations like ours where you have money this quarter and not sure whether you will have money next quarter.”

Counsel Evans Ochieng- Defense team member

Under the principle of positive complementarity[1],  national institutions like the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Uganda should have the necessary capabilities to effectively and efficiently handle investigations and prosecution of international crimes under the Rome Statute[2]. To this end, ASF has provided support to the ICD to develop and evolve its capacity. For instance, through the provision of technical support for the development of the ICD’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence and the guidelines on Registry Management. ASF has also engaged in capacity-building of the court, providing support to victims’ lawyers and broadly enhancing victims’ participation. To ensure the sustainability of these efforts, ASF, with its partner ICTJ, embarked on a study that led to the development of a Judicial Bench Book, which is an authoritative reference resource on the practice and procedure for the criminal prosecution of international crimes. ASF’s support has in many ways helped the relatively young institution that is the High Court to operate in line with the required international standards, thereby enhancing its capacity to deliver on its mandate as well as its international credibility and recognition.

Being victim-centered is at the core of ASF’s transitional justice strategy and this has informed the nature of our interventions. Working collaboratively with grassroots organizations such as Foundation for Justice and Development Initiative (FJDI), Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G), and the Victims Counsels, we have conducted outreach where information regarding the trial has been disseminated and feedback from the victim communities sought. Radio talk shows have also been organized where court officials and other stakeholders discuss pertinent issues arising from the trial and where victim community members can call in and have their say on the state of affairs surrounding the trial and the possible next steps. This has been powerful in ensuring that victims are informed and aware of what is happening but also in ensuring that their views inform court officials on what victims think and perceive of the whole process.

ASF welcomes the government of Uganda’s adoption of the National Transitional Justice Policy, a comprehensive and key framework designed to address past human rights violations with the aim of promoting justice, accountability and reconciliation which are key pillars in achieving sustainable peace.  However, there is a need to expedite the enactment of the legislative instruments to operationalize the policy and ensure that victims achieve justice.

In the meantime, victims grapple with real life-threatening issues that need urgent and immediate attention. For instance, some victims returned with bullets in their bodies that necessitate surgical and rehabilitative processes to have these removed from their bodies. Others were victims of sexual violence who need medical support to address their reproductive and other enduring consequences of the violence as well as psychosocial support to manage their trauma.

There are also challenges regarding the both social and familial integration of children born in captivity and the reintegration of their mothers who suffer from stigmatization within the communities. To extent sometimes that the victims and their children have been forced to leave their communities and try to settle in urban centers and towns. Faced with this stigmatization and difficult living circumstances, some survivors have committed suicide or harbor suicidal thoughts.

In the absence of any interim support to address the long-lasting impacts of the violence and human rights abuses they have suffered, victims are concerned that by the time delayed justice is served, many will have already died and that justice will therefore not serve its intended purpose.

[1] Fidelma Donlon (2011), The International Criminal Court and Complementarity From Theory to Practice, pp. 920 – 954,Cambridge University Press.

[2] This principle envisions a coordinated approach to the prosecution of crimes by the International Criminal Court and national authorities. This points to a two-tiered policy to combat Impunity where ICC initiates prosecution against those who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes under Investigation and on the other hand encourages national trials where possible for the lower-ranking perpetrators. Such a principle would encourage the use and admission of information and evidence collected by the ICC before National Courts like the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Uganda. Article 93(10) (a) of the Rome Statute equally encourages such cooperation

This policy brief was written by Jimmy Wamimbi with valuable input from Faridah Kyomuhangi, Simon Mallet, Irene Winnie Anying, and Valérie Arnould.

Reparation to victims of international crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a major challenge in the fight against impunity

ASF has been active in the fight against impunity and the field of international justice for over 15 years in the DRC. During that time, the organization has witnessed great progress but regrets that current mechanisms are still not up to the challenges at stake.

As conflicts persist and condemnations in international crimes are more and more regular, victims still struggle to effectively receive the reparations that are granted to them by courts and tribunals. This represents a major issue as reparations are considered fundamental to achieving an effective process of reconciliation in the DRC. To this day, despite the 28 million USD granted to more than 3.300 victims, only one reparation ruling has been partially executed.

This obviously constitutes a major issue in itself but this is not the only problematic aspect about the reparations granted. Their form raises two major issues as well. First, they can only be granted through judicial decision, limiting access to justice for many victims. Secondly, Congolese law only allows the allocation of individual and monetary reparations.

The nature of the crimes committed, the prejudices suffered and their impact on large portion of the population require an adapted response. ASF considers that the Congolese legal system in its current state does not meet the standards required for these international crimes trials. International criminal law, for example, provides for the possibility of collective and non-pecuniary reparations, provisions which have not yet been incorporated into national legislation.

ASF addresses those challenges through its project “Pursuing the fight against impunity of grave crimes committed in the DRC”, funded by the European Union, and implemented in partnership with RCN Justice et Démocratie and Trial International. ASF’s and its partners’ strategy revolves around 4 axes: access to justice for victims, capacity building of field actors, awareness-raising and advocacy.

Thanks to the collaboration between ASF, its partners and the bar associations of Northern Kivu, Ituri and Maniema, more than 500 victims of international crimesinternational have been able to benefit from legal assistance in 2020. To make sure they benefit from the best services possible, ASF and its partners organized training sessions on reparations and their execution to the attention of lawyers, but also training sessions on data collection in the context of international crimes for civil society organizations.

Finally, ASF and its partners work to raise awareness of victims of international crimes and lead an advocacy effort to denounce the non-execution of the judicial decisions in favor of victims.

According to ASF, there is an urgent need for a thorough review of the place given to victims and reparations in the many international justice trials taking place in the DRC. For if these challenges are not met, the whole transitional justice process in the country is at risk. Its success is fundamental to enable the population to regain confidence in its institutions and to hope to achieve real reconciliation at national level.

Djugu killings: Significant evolution of Congolese jurisprudence on reparations

The Djugu 2 trial came to an end on 1 April 2021. It concluded with 21 defendants being sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity by murder, arson, destruction, pillaging and persecution, and 11 defendants being acquitted. The 219 civil parties were also granted most of their claims for reparations, both individual and collective, including rehabilitation measures, thus breaking with the practice of awarding only damages.

Restitution was also ordered as individual reparations. Among the collective reparations measures, the Ituri Military Tribunal ordered the DRC to set up a health centre in each village for the medical and psychological care of the victims; to take measures to search for the unaccounted-for bodies and to provide the victims with the means to organise their mourning; to erect a monument in each village that had been attacked; and to take appropriate measures to put an end to the activities of the armed group CODECO. This is a particularly relevant reconciliation of the different reparation measures provided by international law, namely compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

This verdict is an important step in the fight against impunity in Ituri, a region that is the scene of significant inter-community and ethnic tensions. This trial concerns in particular the crimes committed by the armed group “Cooperative for the Development of Congo” (CODECO) against the Hema community in the territory of Djugu, between December 2017 and March 2020. CODECO claims to defend the interests of the Lendu community (farmers) against the Hema community (herders and traders). The CODECO militia had intensified its attacks in the territories of Djugu, Irumu and Tchomia after the death of its leader Matthieu Ngudjolo and the arrest of his main lieutenants.

The Djugu trial covered crimes committed in these territories between December 2017 and March 2020. The defendants were accused of having launched several widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population, killing more than 800 people, burning more than 400 homes and displacing 200,000 people.

This decision sends a strong signal to the armed groups operating in the region who continue to violate the rights of the civilian population, as well as to the Congolese state, whose responsibility is also recognised by the Court. The DRC was thus ordered to pay reparation in solidum for having failed in its mission to protect the population. Almost all of the victims, witnesses and informants reported the presence of the Congolese national police and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the localities where the attacks and other reprehensible acts of which the defendants are accused were committed.

The proceedings were conducted in accordance with the law and the principles of a fair trial, in particular the legal time limits, despite the difficulties linked to the persistent insecurity caused by the presence of CODECO in the vicinity of Iga Barrière.

This verdict does not, however, mark the end of the judicial process for the victims of this case. Victims very rarely obtain the reparations to which they are entitled. The procedure for the execution of other forms of reparation is thus far from clear. The challenge now is to ensure that :

– The indigence of victims is recognised and they are exempted from the costs of the preparation of the case and the enforcement procedure;
– The administrative and judicial authorities proceed with the preparation of the judgment to make it enforceable;
– The administrative and judicial authorities proceed with the effective enforcement of the judgment;
– Victims effectively receive the reparations to which they are entitled as soon as possible.

Continue reading “Djugu killings: Significant evolution of Congolese jurisprudence on reparations”

ASF joins the “Poverty is not a crime” campaign

ASF joins the Open Society Foundation, APCOF, PALU, and ACJR in a campaign to promote the decriminalisation and declassification of minor offences. “Vagrancy”, “disorderly behaviour” or “idleness” remain valid grounds for arresting and imprisoning individuals, contributing to the endemic overcrowding of prisons throughout the world. Particularly affecting people in vulnerable situations, these laws and their application are both arbitrary and discriminatory. 

In many countries on the African continent, such offences date back to colonial times. But while these laws have been repealed in the former colonial powers, they remain in force in many African states. 

By providing a criminal response to socio-economic issues, vulnerable populations are further marginalised. Maintaining these minor offences in the penal code therefore fuels a vicious circle. In many countries, the criminalisation of minor offences is one of the main sources of prison overcrowding. Decriminalising these offences and ending the detention of people who are not a danger to public order is the only way out in the long term.

Within the framework of the Poverty is Not a Crime campaign, several organisations have united to decriminalise these minor offences. Advocacy actions are being organised at national and regional level, mobilising ASF’s teams and partners.

Following an interpellation launched at the initiative of the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU), the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled unanimously on December 4th 2020 in favour of the decriminalisation of minor offences. It declared these laws and regulations incompatible with the African Charter, the Children’s Charter and the Maputo Protocol. It is in accordance with this opinion that it ordered the States concerned to review, repeal and, if necessary, amend these laws and regulations.

The criminalisation of minor offences is incompatible with the constitutional principle of equality before the law and non-discrimination. It has a considerable impact on the poor, vulnerable people and women and infringes on many of their freedoms, including freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

Following the positive decision of the African Court, ASF joins civil society organisations to call for the repeal of such offences and all forms of unjustified repression. 

Join the campaign

Continue reading “ASF joins the “Poverty is not a crime” campaign”

The DRC must pay off its debt to victims of mass crimes

Why do so few victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) receive reparations even as the number of convictions for international crimes continues to rise? A policy brief produced by ASF, Trial International and RCN Justice et Démocratie gives details of excessively lengthy and complicated procedures. The document, endorsed by around thirty civil society players and international partners, denounces a “facade of justice” that fails to meet the requirements of international law.

The DRC has stepped up its efforts to combat impunity since early 2000. Almost twenty years later, the results are mixed. Congolese courts, which are essentially military courts, have examined more than 50 cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have issued many convictions and ordered that reparations be paid to victims.

This facade of justice has been undermined, however, by the very few reparations measures that have actually been implemented. According to data collected, Congolese courts have ordered that close to 28 million dollars in total be paid in damages and interest to more than 3.300 victims. The reparation orders were made when the accused was found guilty as well as the Congolese state, in solidarity, for failing to protect its population. Yet to this day, it seems that only one reparation order has actually been carried out.

A detailed policy brief proposing specific measures

Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), Trial International and RCN Justice & Démocratie are publishing a policy brief intended for the Congolese authorities in order to understand why reparations systematically fail to be paid.

Apart from issues relating to political will, the policy brief focuses on jurisdictions where reparation orders have not been complied with, which can largely be explained by the cumbersome nature of the procedure for enforcing reparation orders. The process involves a considerable number of steps and points of contact in jurisdictions and administrations that are severely hampered by red tape and corrupt practices.

We hope that the policy brief will open the door to constructive discussions with the authorities,” explains Daniele Perissi, Head of the Great Lakes Program at TRIAL International. “That is why our document includes a set of specific, realistic recommendations on how to ensure that victims receive their due.”

A deeper debate on transitional justice

While the procedure is undeniably in need of reform, both the amount and structure of the State debt call reparation arrangements into question. Under international standards, such arrangements must also offer the possibility of non-monetary measures.

Among other things, the situation is a stark reminder that the DRC must commit to a genuine policy of transitional justice and that its criminal justice system alone cannot bear the burden of ensuring that victims of mass crimes receive justice.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fight against impunity continues

Kinshasa, 3 June 2019 – Access to justice is more crucial than ever to ease the existing tensions in the North and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which have been torn apart by violence for decades. On 21 and 23 May 2019, ASF, RCN Justice & Démocratie (RCN) and TRIAL International launched a shared project to fight impunity in those regions. Two workshops, held in Goma and Bukavu, gathered over a hundred people playing a part in the prosecution of international crimes. In North and South Kivu, many human rights violations stem from conflicting attempts to secure natural resources, regional rivalries and ethnic tensions. Although hundreds of victims already saw their perpetrators prosecuted and punished between 2016 and 2018, there is much more to be done for all the people responsible to be brought to justice and all the victims to receive reparation. “Promoting efforts to fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, a three-years project funded by the European Union, is meant to foster access to justice for people and communities that fell victim to international crimes.

A response that matches the stakes

“The intervention benefits from the joint experience and expertise of our three organizations, which makes for a fitting response to the stakes identified in the region, whether one is looking at the demand for justice or its delivery”, according to Gilles Durdu, ASF’s Country Director. “The key to success lies in increased coordination, not only among our organizations but also among all the people involved in that sector”, Daniele Perissi, Head of the Great Lakes program at TRIAL International, corroborates. “Together, we hope to devise a truly efficient national strategy in order to prosecute the gravest crimes.” The workshops used to launch the project were precisely designed to allow the players who had been invited to reflect on the current stakes and challenges in the fight against impunity and international crimes in DRC, as well as to reassert the importance of a joint operation to promote a holistic response. Joel Phalip, Head of Mission for RCN, specifies that “part of that response will be to reinforce the technical capacities at the disposal of the justice professionals, including civilian and military courts and tribunals. We also wish to increase the involvement of the victims in all the steps of the lawsuits and their collaboration with the judicial actors

A shared will to join forces

The people attending the workshops also underscored the importance of coordination and collaboration in the sector, as Walid Henia, a Military Consultant on investigations at MONUSCO and the person in charge of the Bukavu Task Force, remarks. He said: “We need to work together, to join forces and act as one to provide the judicial authorities with better support in the fight for the victims against impunity in severe or mass crimes.”  “We must find tools and means to coordinate our knowledge and the ways that we act together”, two other participants added. “For greater transparency, we truly need to collaborate, all of us – courts and tribunals, NGOs, civil society organizations, technical and financial partners, the media… This will allow us to do away with many clichés and stereotypes attached to justice and the prosecution of international penal crimes, and to recreate trust with the people.”
Pictures © ASF/Camille Burlet
Continue reading “In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fight against impunity continues”

The acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba: lessons must be learned

Brussels, 11 June 2018 – The acquittal on appeal of Jean-Pierre Bemba by the International Criminal Court leaves several thousand victims in the Central African Republic without no proper response to the extreme violence committed against them during the armed conflict. In 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, guilty of the crimes committed by his forces, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, against the civilian population of the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003, in support of Ange-Félix Patassé’s regime. He was initially sentenced to eighteen years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The decision taken by the ICC on Friday 8 June to acquit Mr Bemba on appeal has dealt a serious blow to the hopes of the 5,000 victims who came forward and, more generally, to the prospect of justice for crimes committed in the Central African Republic. After ten years of proceedings, this result casts serious doubt on the capacity of international justice, which in this case was operating at the highest level, to pursue the struggle against impunity. The argument that Mr Bemba was not in control of his troops who were deployed in the Central African Republic sends a particularly worrying message to all the commanders of factions operating in the region with complete disregard for its borders. Though the acquittal is undeniably legitimate from a strictly legal standpoint and conforms to the international standards on fair trials, it has left several thousand victims, including many victims of sexual violence, helpless. They have been denied recognition or reparation, a great disappointment given the scale of the resources mobilised in relation to this case. The victims were actively encouraged to get involved in the procedure and had placed a great deal of hope in the outcome, given the absence of any other prospects for justice in the short term. By participating proceedings of this kind, people are often putting themselves and their families at risk, exposing themselves to coercion and the threat of reprisals. The Bemba trial was no exception: the accused was himself convicted by the ICC of suborning witnesses. This decision threatens the credibility of international justice, making it even more difficult for ASF and other organisations to carry out their work with victims. The news is particularly unwelcome at a time when the Special Criminal Court for the Central African Republic is being put into operation in Bangui. While waiting for the verdict to be published, ASF wishes to draw attention to some lessons that can already be learned from this case. ASF considers it vital to make possible access to justice and reparations for the victims of armed conflicts through mechanisms other than the International Criminal Court, by strengthening national mechanisms for pursuing international crimes and developing transitional justice mechanisms more generally. ASF also stresses the importance of taking steps to prevent the experience of justice from becoming another form of damage to victims, adding the denial of justice to the harm originally suffered.
Photo © CPI-ICC, 2017
Continue reading “The acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba: lessons must be learned”

Victims’ legal representation raised at the 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute

Brussels, 18 December 2017 – At the Sixteenth Session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, ASF and REDRESS co-organised a parallel event on the legal representation of victims before the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Crimes Division (ICD) in Uganda, and the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic (CAR). This event was an opportunity to take stock of practices relating to representation for victims in criminal procedures involving serious crimes. Victim participation constitutes one of the greatest advances in international criminal law, the catalyst for which was undoubtedly the Rome Statute. Its provisions on the subject have since influenced many hybrid and domestic jurisdictions, established or mandated to pursue international crimes. Victim participation was thus recently introduced before the ICD in Uganda, where the common law system limits victim participation in criminal matters to a victim impact statement. However, the participation of victims is not uncomplicated in practice, for example, when it comes to their representation by a lawyer. The ICC constantly employs joint legal representation of victims, which was made possible by the Rome Statute. The Ongwen case in Uganda, however, revealed the limits of the approach adopted by the organs of the court, when legal aid was initially refused to victims who had chosen Ugandan representation (more than 2,600, currently), the court favouring instead the Office of Public Counsel for Victims. The difficulties encountered by victims before the ICC can provide lessons for developing the regulatory frameworks of other jurisdictions, such as the SCC in CAR, whose draft Rules of Procedure and Evidence also provide for the possibility of joint legal representation. However, the composition of the SCC’s special body of lawyers, which will provide representation for the accused as well as for victims, raises numerous questions, starting with the balance between national and international lawyers and the conditions for legal aid. Data collected by ASF in the field reveals many issues of representation faced by these lawyers, in a context that is marked by severe ethnic tensions, which will no doubt be at the heart of the SCC’s work. It is therefore crucial that the SCC take these issues into account in the development of its activities, to be better able to overcome them and thereby contribute to strengthening the legal system as a whole. While the victims of international crimes can be limited in their choice of representation for logistical and financial reasons, legal representation ultimately requires a relationship based on trust and transparency between lawyer and client. This relationship is key to seeking justice, the ultimate aim of which should be the delivery of reparations that are appropriate to the damage sustained, based on the wishes and expectations of victims. The parallel event received support from the governments of the United Kingdom and Finland and was organised with the help of the Victims’ Rights Working Group. >> Download the programme for the parallel event (PDF) Continue reading “Victims’ legal representation raised at the 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute”