New WCRO Report Examines Obtaining Victim Status for Purposes of Participating in Proceedings at the International Criminal Court

CONTACT: Adam Deutsch,, (202) 274-4067                    


WASHINGTON, D.C. January 27, 2014 —The War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at American University Washington College of Law has launched a new report on the International Criminal Court (ICC), Obtaining Victim Status for Purposes of Participating in Proceedings at the International Criminal Court.

One of the most lauded features of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) is its victim participation scheme, which allows individuals harmed by the crimes being prosecuted by the Court to share their views and concerns in proceedings against the persons allegedly responsible. To date, more than 12,000 individuals have applied to participate in proceedings before the ICC, and well over 5,000 have successfully obtained victim status. However, the process established under the documents governing the ICC by which individuals apply for and receive permission to participate – which involves each individual victim submitting a detailed form with supporting documentation to the Court, observations on each application by the parties, and an individualized decision on the application by a Chamber of the Court – has proved inefficient for the applicants, the parties, and the Court. At the same time, the process has been frustrating for victims, as it can take more than two years for applicants to receive a decision on their status, meaning victims are often unable to share their views and concerns with the Court during key proceedings in the case. This frustration is compounded by the fact that, for the vast majority of victims, participation takes place through a common legal representative, appointed by the Court to represent significant numbers of victims together, raising the question as to why individual victims were required to endure such a lengthy and detailed application process.

Recognizing that the current system is both unsustainable and undesirable, various Chambers of the Court have been exploring alternative means by which individuals may obtain victim status in the cases before them, and the Court’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) is considering reforming the system courtwide. This report examines the different options that have been tried and/or that are under consideration by the ASP and ultimately recommends changes to the victim application system aimed at saving valuable time and resources for applicants, the Registry, the parties, and the Chambers. Importantly, the recommended changes are unlikely to undermine the meaningfulness of victim participation, and in fact will allow victims to gain recognition and the right to representation much more quickly than under the current system, meaning the recommended approach is likely to make participation more meaningful for a large number of victims.

The report is the eighteenth in the WCRO’s ICC Legal Analysis and Education Project, an initiative aimed at producing public, impartial, legal analyses of critical issues raised by decisions and practice of the ICC. The ICC Legal Analysis and Education Project benefits from the insights of an Advisory Committee comprised of the following experts in international criminal law:

  • Judge Mary McGowan Davis, former Acting New York State Supreme Court Judge and Board Member of the International Judicial Academy and the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists;
  • Justice Unity Dow, Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, member of the ICJ's Executive Committee and former judge of the Botswana High Court;
  • Siri Frigaard, Chief Public Prosecutor for the Norwegian National Authority for Prosecution of Organized and Other Serious Crimes and former Deputy General Prosecutor for Serious Crimes in East Timor;
  • Justice Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda;
  • Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and former Chief International Judge serving as Coordinator of the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor; and
  • Juan Mendez, visiting professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and former Special Advisor on Prevention to the Prosecutor of the ICC.

For a hard copy of the report or more information, contact the War Crimes Research Office at, or +1 (202) 274-4067. The reports are also available online here.


The War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) was established in 1995 to promote the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law. Now in its 18th year, the WCRO has worked toward this goal primarily by providing specialized legal assistance to international/ized criminal courts and select accountability mechanisms operating at the national level. For more information, visit

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