Atrocity Response Program

A girl in northern Uganda returns to school after lunch.
Atrocity Response Program

In 2013 the Human Rights Center launched the Atrocity Response Program to bring advances in science and technology to bear on investigations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. From 2013 to 2016, the program worked to protect victims and witnesses of the worst human rights crimes and developed tools, including improved information sharing and investigative procedures, to prevent and document these crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Supporting Victims

Witnesses are the lifeblood of trials involving international crimes. Most victims and witnesses have survived or witnessed mass killings, rape, torture, inhumane imprisonment, forced expulsion, and the destruction of their homes and villages. For many, testifying in a war crimes trial requires an act of great courage, especially when perpetrators still walk the streets of their villages and towns. Yet, despite these risks, little has been done to help the International Criminal Court and national courts to assess the efficacy and security of its programs and services for victims and witnesses. The Atrocity Response Program conducted studies to provide feedback to courts about what victims and witnesses have found most helpful and meaningful, and where improvements might be made.

The Atrocity Response Program released a major, multi-country study titled The Victims’ Court? A Study of 622 Victim Participants at the International Criminal Court at the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in November 2015. Download the executive summary here.

Voir la traduction Francoise: Une Cour Pour Les Victimes? Une étude de 622 victimes participantes à la Cour pénale internationale.

The independent study—undertaken at the request of the ICC and based on in-depth interviews with 622 victim participants in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Côte D’Ivoire—finds that the ICC has reached a critical juncture in its victim participation program. The court must invest more resources and think more creatively about how it can meet the programmatic and psycho-social needs of victim participants, or revamp the program entirely.

Protecting witnesses

In spring 2014, the Atrocity Response Program issued Bearing Witness at the International Criminal Court: An Interview Survey of 109 Witnesses—the world’s first survey of witnesses who  have testified at the ICC. While our findings were mostly positive, we found that women were underrepresented and disproportionately used to testify about sexual violence, and we identified gaps in the ICC’s long-term protection of witnesses. We presented findings to the ICC and government representatives from around the world, offering data along with recommendations to improve witness handling.

Improving Investigations

The Human Rights Center and the Open Society Justice Initiative hosted an international conference held in September 2014 in Salzburg, Austria, in collaboration with the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor and the Salzburg Global Seminar. Workshop participants discussed how local and international NGOs, journalists, forensic scientists, health professionals, and other “first responders” to war crimes and human violations can most effectively work with courts—and the ICC in particular—in the collection of evidence of serious war crimes, such as genocide and crimes against humanity. Read the report here

The Human Rights Center, in collaboration with CITRIS, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, and Salzburg Global Seminar, hosted the Salzburg Workshop on Improving War Crimes Investigations, a convening focused on the use of digital evidence to prosecute atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes). The workshop was held in Salzburg, Austria, in October 2013. Read the report here

Putting Complementarity Into Practice

The International Criminal Court is unable to prosecute all those responsible for crimes against humanity and other international crimes. As a result, an increasing number of domestic courts have begun investigating and adjudicating international crimes. Yet little is known about how these courts will manage, protect, and provide services to witnesses. The Atrocity Response Program conducted studies of national court systems in countries where serious human rights violations have occurred to determine what improvements can be made to ensure the security of trial participants and meet the medical and psychosocial needs of vulnerable communities.