SCL Lecture “Improving victims’ legal representation at the ICC”

Published 12 June 2015

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On 10 June 2015, the T.M.C. Asser Instituut hosted a Supranational Criminal Law (SCL) lecture, entitled “Improving victims’ legal representation at the ICC”. The lecture’s panel was composed of four members: Jean-Philippe Kot, International and Transitional Justice Expert at Avocats Sans Frontières; Fidel Nsita, Legal Representative of Victims (LRV) before the International Criminal Court (ICC); Tatiana Bangue, in her capacity as Social Worker with victims in the Central African Republic (CAR); and Fiona McKay in her capacity as Head of the Victims Participation and Reparation Section of the ICC. The lecture was moderated by Gaelle Carayon from REDRESS.

The lecture commenced with opening remarks by Gaelle Carayon, who presented the April 2015 Report of REDRESS, the starting point of the lecture’s discussions, entitled: “Representing Victims before the ICC: Recommendations on the Legal Representation System”. She explained that the Report is focusing on issues pertaining to the appointment of the victims’ counsel and the quality and effective representation of victims before the ICC. She then invited the panellists to comment.

Jean-Philippe Kot began his speech by mentioning that when evaluating the quality of victims’ legal representation before the ICC, clarification is needed on how quality can be defined and assessed and which organ of the ICC is to perform the assessment. He further proposed three measurable indicators to improve the quality of representation: involvement of the LRVs with victims at the earliest stages of a case, in order to provide guidance to victims on the application procedure; free, prior and informed consent of victims regarding their representative before the ICC; and more transparency on the role of the LRV, which should be a reflection of victims’ voices.

After that, Fidel Nsita spoke about the challenges when providing legal representation to victims, in light of his experience as LRV in The Prosecutor v. Germain Katanga case before the ICC. He focused his speech on two main challenges: dealing with the procedural requirements of trials and the difficulty of establishing contact with victims. Nevertheless, he assessed his experience as LRV in a positive way, emphasizing that his work focused on advancing victims’ concerns.

Tatiana Bangue, the third speaker of the lecture, expressed her views on victims’ representation before the ICC, drawn from her experience working with victims in the field, in the CAR. She explained that in the CAR, the presence of the LRV in the field is lacking, and, as a consequence, victims’ involvement with the legal representative is obstructed by various barriers, making it difficult for victims to transmit their concerns to the ICC.

Finally, Fiona McKay touched upon various challenges faced by both LRVs and victims during trials. She stressed that victims lack experience with judicial proceedings, especially at the ICC level, and also have a narrow understanding of the ICC and the role of the LRV. Conversely, lawyers are not usually trained in representing victims and when appointed as LRVs, they do not have enough experience dealing with hundreds of victims. Against this background, the Victims Participation and Reparation Section has to reconcile the wishes of both parties and ensure a smooth legal representation of victims. Fiona McKay highlighted that while they are still working to improve victims’ representation before the ICC, they always aim to appoint high-quality and efficient LRVs.