Side Events: 17th Assembly of State Parties | "Victims' Participation in ICC Proceedings: Examining the Role of Counsel”

(co-hosted by Chile, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, Trust Africa and Victim’s Support Initiative)) 

Overview by Kathryn Gooding Research Associate PILPG NL


  • Counsel emphasized the importance of victim participation in international criminal proceedings, as it adds an air of legitimacy to court proceedings. 

  • Counsel also noted the importance of participation for the victims themselves, as they often find comfort and gain healing through recounting their experiences. 

  • However, Counsel reiterated the need to manage the expectations of victims and the expert report emphasised the need to ensure that victims have access to services that can ensure healing.

This event focused on the importance of counsel in ensuring the participation of victims in ICC proceedings. The panel included the legal representatives of the victims for the Ongwencase, Joseph Akwenya Manoba and Francisco Cox. They were joined by an expert in the Ongwencase, Teddy Atim, who wrote a report for the court entitled “The Effect of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s Violence on Victims from Northern Uganda in Prosecutor v Dominic Ongwen”. 

The Counsel emphasised the central role of victims in the prosecution of international crimes. Participation of victims in the ICC system is provided under Article 63 of the Rome Statute, which grants victims respect and gives them a sense of justice. Victim participation also has an important value to trial proceedings, increasing the legitimacy of the trial. Counsel play an essential role as the victim’s representatives. 

Joseph Manoba explored how counsel try to facilitate the evidence-extracting process, by creating conducive conditions for the victims in which they can tell the counsel of their experiences. To try and make it easier for the victims, the counsel hold one on one discussions with clients, and this helps victims to more meaningfully engage with the trial and help them understand how important their role is in the trial. Manoba also noted that many of the victims are former child solders, having suffered sexual and gender-based violence, and the victims have found that often the discussions have a healing quality. Therefore, Manoba emphasizes how the one on one meetings are both very helpful for counsel, but also very helpful for victims. 

However, Manoba noted that legal representatives for the victims cannot provide counselling services to the victims, and that they do not have the monetary resources to do so. Manoba emphasizes the difficulties in having to use their own skills to manage situations where victims become emotional, or suffer from recounting memories. 

Francisco Cox explores some of the challenges that legal representatives for the victims suffer from. He notes that there is a time-limit in which victims can come forward and apply to be represented, and this means that many people are not represented as victims. He emphasised how it is the role of the legal representatives for the victims to focus on issues not focused on by the prosecution, to ensure that the victims can gain satisfaction and healing through participation in the court process. 

Teddy Atim explained the main issues surrounding the report she wrote for the Ongwen case. She explained that she needed the study to be representative of the population of Northern Uganda and ensure that there was sufficient representation of victims in the study. The aim of her report was to find the impact of the alleged crimes on the people of Northern Uganda. She aimed to assess the physical health, psychological well-being, access to education, access to health services, food security, and access to water of victims, and how these had been affected by the crimes that they had suffered. 

In her report, she found that psycho-social well-being was what came out strongly in the report. Women were more likely to have worse psychosocial well-being because they suffered more of the violence proportionately. People who suffered more than five war crimes or more were found to more severely suffer from issues surrounding psycho-social well-being, finding that there were compounding effects over time on the psychological state of mind of particularly women. 

She underlined how victims require specialised treatment, particularly in the context of sexual crimes, however this type of treatment has not been available to the victims in Uganda. They require treatment, but they have no access to treatment. This lack of access has implications for well-being in the future, and also means that war crimes often have inter-generational impacts, as children suffer from precarious food security and lack of education in affected households, as the lack of treatment means that healing cannot take place. Atim emphasises the need for psycho-social services, which are truly lacking in Northern Uganda, as well as specialist care for children returning from war. 

A number of questions were put to the panel. One question addressed how counsel prevent unduly raising victims’ expectations, and Joseph Manoba responded to this by explaining that counsel make it very clear from the outset what victims can expect from the court. They go to the communities themselves and explain court processes to the victims and explain what the court can and cannot do for them. Counsel emphasise to the victims that there cannot be any reparations until conviction, and that even upon conviction, reparations may be limited. Francisco Cox noted that often they have to explain to communities that it is possible that Ongwen may be acquitted, and they have to prepare for this. 

Another question queried how it is possible to ensure the participation of victims in preliminary situations. Francisco Cox noted how the counsel has very little experience in this particular scenario, however they would ensure that victims are organised to gather information from them. However, he emphasised that when gathering information from victims, it is important to collect information in relation to a particular individual, who could potentially be held criminally responsible, rather than against the state as would happen with human rights litigation.