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International human rights law


With respect to human rights norms, article 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR) provides that victims of violations of human rights provided for under the Covenant have the right to an effective remedy, including the right to have such a remedy determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities and to have that remedy enforced when granted. Not only must such remedies exist legally, but they must also be enforced in practice by the competent authorities. In terms of what form such remedies should take, the Human Rights Committee has stated that in addition to compensation, "where appropriate, reparation can involve restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction, such as public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non-repetition and changes in relevant laws and practices, as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations" (Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 31 CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para. 16).

Procedural standards for victims*

A helpful analysis of the international legal framework governing victims is available in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Background Paper on Solidarity with Victims of Terrorism.* It further describes (sect. 2) what the procedural standards governing victims should be:

  • Compensation: Victims should receive fair, appropriate and timely compensation for the damages contribute to compensation for victims where confiscation of property of perpetrators of terrorist acts is not sufficient or Compensation should not depend on the nationality of the victim.
  • Investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences must respond to the criteria of effectiveness and should not need to file a complaint in order to be involved in the investigation and safeguard their legitimate interests should be able to ask for the review of a judicial decision not to take action to prosecute a suspected perpetrator of a terrorist act.
  • States should bring suspected perpetrators of terrorist acts to justice in order to obtain a judicial decision in a reasonable amount of consideration is due to victims in criminal should be granted effective access to law and justice, including access to courts to file civil actions and free access to counsel in appropriate cases.
  • Furthermore, the report recommends that "States should encourage training for persons responsible for assistance to victims of terrorist acts."
* OSCE (2005). Background Paper on Solidarity with Victims of Terrorism . Oñati, 9-10 March. See especially, sect. 2, The international framework.

An inherent aspect of ICCPR article 2(3) is that where violations of Covenant rights have occurred, any failure to bring the perpetrators to justice could in and of itself constitute a separate breach of the Covenant (Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 31 CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para. 18). This is especially the case where the violations may also be criminal in nature, whether under domestic and/or international law. Where any violations are committed on a mass scale as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, such violations of the Covenant may cross the threshold into constituting crimes against humanity (see, e.g., article 7 Rome Statute) (Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 31 CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para. 18).

Other international instruments

Provision is made also under article 39 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges States to "promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child [i.e. under the age of 18] victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts". This is relevant to terrorism contexts as just described, whether, e.g., for child abductees by terrorist groups.

Provision is also made under articles 68 and 75 of the Rome Statute 1998: article 68 concerns the protection of victims and witnesses and their participation in the proceedings; article 75 governs reparation to victims. Under article 75(1), the Rome Statute has a degree of discretion as to how it develops its principles governing victims, as well as several options open to it in terms of the type of reparations which may be awarded:

The Court shall establish principles relating to reparations to, or in respect of, victims, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. On this basis, in its decision the Court may.... determine the scope and extent of any damage, loss and injury to, or in respect of, victims and will state the principles on which it is acting.

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