Charlie Loudon addresses European Parliament workshop on universal jurisdiction

Victim participation in universal jurisdiction cases and the role of the EU: Remarks to a European Parliament workshop

Charlie Loudon, International Legal Adviser at REDRESS, delivered the following remarks to a European Parliament workshop on 28 June 2018, “Universal Jurisdiction and International Crimes: Constraints and Best Practices”. The remarks focused on the importance of victim participation in universal jurisdiction proceedings and the role of the EU. The workshop was organised by the Subcommittee on Human Rights in association with the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

REDRESS works directly with the survivors of torture and other atrocity crimes across the world, to help them seek justice and reparations. As part of this, REDRESS has worked since 2000 to develop the use of universal jurisdiction in Europe. That work has included collaborating closely with the EU institutions and with other NGOs on analysis and advocacy, including support work for the EU Genocide Network. We have also been involved in several universal jurisdiction investigations or prosecutions, through our offices in London and the Hague.

REDRESS is grateful for the opportunity to provide input to this discussion, and is particularly pleased that the workshop has received such broad support from three Parliamentary Committees. This rightly reflects that universal jurisdiction is not just an issue for the EU’s external relations, but is very much also an issue of Justice and Home Affairs.

REDRESS’s comments focus on two issues:

  1. First, the importance of guaranteeing victims’ rights in universal jurisdiction prosecutions; and
  2. Second, some proposals on what the EU institutions could do to promote universal jurisdiction further.

Taking first the rights of victims: we should not forget that one of the fundamental goals of universal jurisdiction prosecutions is to provide justice for victims.

We need to ensure that in every universal jurisdiction case in every EU Member State, victims’ rights are being respected. This includes ensuring that:

  1. Victims are dealt with in a sensitive way that does not re-traumatise them;
  2. They are protected from potential reprisals;
  3. They are pro-actively informed about the progress of the case;
  4. They are given a chance to have their voices heard during proceedings; and
  5. They are given the opportunity to seek reparations.

Member States and their authorities should implement policies and practices that ensure victims benefit from universal jurisdiction prosecutions. The 2012 EU Victims’ Rights Directive is a good starting point for this. It provides a baseline for how Member State authorities should treat victims in criminal proceedings. But it is crucial that Member States tailor their application of the Directive to the specific circumstances of prosecutions for international crimes.

Turning then to what the EU institutions can do: overall, the European Union should be commended for its work to date. It is important to continue building on this work. Others are better placed to speak about what more the EU could do externally. We would like to focus on three issues we believe the EU should consider in its internal policy, to promote universal jurisdiction further.

First, universal jurisdiction needs to be placed firmly back on the agenda of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs policy. What does this mean? REDRESS fully endorses the recommendations made by Prof Jessberger in his written briefing for the workshop. We support in particular the development of an Action Plan and Toolkit on universal jurisdiction, and the need to provide continued support to Member States and NGOs for the development of universal jurisdiction in Europe. Other steps could include the Justice and Home Affairs Council issuing annual conclusions on ensuring accountability for international crimes. The European Parliament could also convene an annual hearing on the issue. This would allow the EU Genocide Network to report back to parliamentarians on its activities, and give the Parliament an opportunity to direct future policy on universal jurisdiction.

Second, we would propose that the European Parliament commission a study to examine the use of universal jurisdiction by Member States. REDRESS’s view is that the study would be best to focus in detail on one, or a small number of, specific aspects of universal jurisdiction in Europe. We believe that the rights of victims in universal jurisdiction proceedings would be a key area for examination.

Finally, there may be merit in the Commission assessing how member states have implemented the EU Victims’ Rights Directive specifically in the context of international crimes. It could review to what extent the victims of international crimes have benefitted so far, identify best practices, and determine what more could be done to ensure that the victims of international crimes are having their voices heard.