Justice For Victims Of Atrocity Crimes: Need More Stringent International Laws


International law needs to be more stringent for states to offer reparation for victims of atrocity crimes, such as war crimes. At present, demands differ from those put on states to prosecute perpetrators. This according to a new dissertation by Fanny Holm at Umeå University, in which she also suggests measures to increase state’s responsibilities.

“When atrocity crimes have taken place, there is need for comprehensive legal measures that also concern other states than those where the crimes have been committed,” said Fanny Holm.

Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are atrocity crimes that have taken place in locations such as for instance Auschwitz, Srebrenica, Darfur and Syria. A common consequence of atrocity crimes is that both perpetrator and victim leave the state where the injustice took place, which makes it difficult for the legal system of the state in question to try the crimes.

Currently, states, international organisations and researchers alike show a desire to prevent new atrocities from taking place, and to find ways to legally deal with the injustices. It has led to a series of initiatives such as international agreements and the establishment of specialised courts and tribunals. The purpose is both to prosecute the perpetrators and to offer remedy and reparation to victims. Reparation can involve financial compensation, but also other forms of support and help.

In her dissertation, Fanny Holm studied documents of international law such as conventions and resolutions, national legislations and court practice to find out what opportunities and obligations single states have to prosecute perpetrators, and also what opportunities and obligations are available to render legal procedures possible where victims can demand reparations from the perpetrator. The study shows that there are several sources of international legislation that require prosecution of atrocity crimes committed abroad, at the same time as there are remarkably fewer sources concerning reparation for those victims.

“Concordance between the two shows serious flaws. It could boil down to the issue of reparation for victims being seen rather as a private concern or a concern between states, which renders individual processes impossible. It could also be seen as a matter for the victims of crime alone. And hence that it should be left to the individual states to choose how to implement the rules. Consequently, these views mean that not all victims are given the chance to demand reparations,” said Fanny Holm.

In the dissertation, Fanny Holm suggests measures that can increase states’ responsibilities and provide justice to victims of atrocity crimes. The most urgent matter is to reduce the breach between demands for prosecution and the procedures for reparations. The dissertation also exemplifies how existing international agreements could be interpreted and how new ones could be formulated to increase pressure on states to provide opportunities for reparation procedures for atrocity crimes that took place abroad, for instance by particular jurisdiction for atrocity crimes in international agreements concerning civil procedure.

Fanny Holm has previously worked at the Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority. She has also worked at a law court and carried out an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

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