Report: EU must eliminate barriers to justice for victims of serious international crimes

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Today, FIDH, ECCHR and REDRESS are releasing the report, “Breaking Down Barriers: Access to Justice in Europe for Victims of International Crimes” that analyses the situation of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and enforced disappearance. While the report highlights important advances in recent years, it concludes that victims still face many barriers that limit the exercise of their rights and prevent them from effectively participating in proceedings. Building on emerging best practices in five member states of the European Union, the report provides a roadmap for improving victims’ access to information, protection and support.

Faced with perpetrators of serious international crimes attempting to escape justice within the European Union (EU), as well the complicity of EU nationals in such crimes, the EU has made the fight against impunity one of its priorities. As a result, a number of member states have created specialised units to identify, investigate and prosecute potential perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and enforced disappearance. Many such units have also taken steps to address the rights and needs of victims of these crimes.

While the EU is working to improve the position of victims of crime within the Union, victims of serious international crimes are often left behind. As such, they still face many barriers that limit the exercise of their rights to information, effective participation, protection and psycho-social support, as well as reparation.

"Our research has identified emerging best practices that improve victims’ access to information, support and protection in cases involving international crimes. We welcome these advances. But more must be done to ensure victims can exercise their rights and actively participate in proceedings".

Sarah Finnin, lawyer, coordinator of the three organisations’ project on victims’ rights

Mansour Omari, a Syrian human rights defender who has contributed to efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its crimes, explained: “Empowering victims allows them to play a more effective role towards an inclusive and realistic approach to justice. As a survivor of torture, I encourage European authorities to reflect on how they can better incorporate victims’ needs and wishes into their efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Barriers to exercising victims’ rights often reflect the inherent difficulties in investigating and prosecuting international crimes at the domestic level. In particular, providing protection to victims who continue to live in conflict areas or situations of ongoing insecurity is challenging. But other barriers—such as the right to challenge a decision not to prosecute and access to full and effective reparation—stem from failures by EU member states to implement their obligations, or from specific policy decisions that effectively restrict access to certain rights in such cases.

The 130-page report is the culmination of two years of research and consultations with 140 investigators, prosecutors, victims’ advocates and other experts and contains detailed analysis of the practices of specialised units in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. However, the findings and recommendations are of broader relevance: both to other countries investigating and prosecuting international crimes, as well as policy makers working to implement the EU’s victims’ rights strategy, a five-year plan adopted in June 2020.

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