Fifth Annual EU Day Against Impunity: Victims’ Rights Must Be Prioritised in Combating Impunity for Serious International Crimes

22/05/2020
Press release

Saturday, 23 May 2020, marks the fifth annual EU Day Against Impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. FIDH, REDRESS and ECCHR call on the EU and its member states to prioritise victims’ rights in their efforts to combat impunity and to maximise the impact of prosecutions beyond EU member states.

The focus of this year’s EU Day Against Impunity on the cumulative prosecution of foreign fighters for terrorism-related charges and for serious international crimes is a timely and useful reminder of the important role the EU and its member states play in fighting impunity and improving victims’ access to justice.

In recent decades, an increasing number of EU member states have established dedicated war crimes units to investigate serious international crimes committed abroad and to prosecute them in their own national courts.
Through these cases, member states have successfully contributed to accountability for serious international crimes across the globe, including in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Syria and the former Yugoslavia. Last year alone saw extra-territorial investigations or prosecutions of international crimes committed in 22 countries.

Police and prosecution authorities across Europe have also successfully prosecuted foreign fighters for international crimes alongside terrorism-related charges. Prosecuting atrocity crimes for what they are, rather than only as terrorism, is a first step towards ending impunity for international crimes and enabling victims to exercise their rights to truth, justice and reparation.

The EU has taken a number of steps to support member states in their efforts to hold perpetrators to account. This includes establishing the EU Genocide Network as the world’s only permanent mechanism specifically designed to facilitate cooperation and coordination in investigating and prosecuting serious international crimes. The mandates of both Europol and Eurojust have recently been extended to further improve cooperation and coordination in this area.

The EU is also a strong actor beyond its borders, continuing to promote transitional justice efforts in many of the countries where these crimes are committed, playing an important role in international fora such as the UN, and supporting the International Criminal Court. These efforts are crucial to making the world a smaller place for perpetrators of atrocity crimes. Yet more is needed to ensure that they also contribute to justice for victims.

The EU and its member states must strive to ensure that atrocity crimes are prosecuted for what they are, including with regard to prosecutions of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. It is not sufficient for foreign fighters to be prosecuted for terrorism-related charges alone, where there is also evidence supporting international crimes charges.

Moreover, for accountability efforts inside the EU to be meaningful for victims and affected communities, and to support transitional justice in the countries concerned, the EU and member states must do more to ensure the impact of international crimes trials in Europe extends beyond the courtroom. They must be innovative in their outreach strategies, closely cooperate with civil society actors working on the ground, and facilitate victims’ active participation in proceedings—ensuring that trials in Europe fully contribute to accountability and justice.

For the past two years, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), REDRESS and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) have been implementing a project to improve access to justice for victims of international crimes in Europe. Together, we have interviewed over 140 practitioners, government authorities, policy-makers and experts at the EU and during fact-finding missions to Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Earlier this month, we released a joint policy submission calling on States to prioritise victims’ rights in negotiations for a new multilateral treaty on international cooperation in the domestic prosecution of serious international crimes. For more information about the proposed treaty, see our Q&A. Our final report will be released in September 2020. For further information concerning the project, please contact Sarah Finnin, Project Coordinator, at justice@fidh.org.

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