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Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention Must Center Victims and Survivors

Overview: States should adopt a survivor-centric approach to the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention

States must take a survivor-centric approach throughout when considering the Draft Articles on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity (the “Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention”). This is an essential approach in relation to all victims and survivors of crimes against humanity, particularly those who may face ongoing marginalization or risks, such as survivors of sexual violence and other gendered harms.

A survivor-centric approach recognizes that victims and survivors of crimes against humanity will have suffered immense harm and trauma. It aims to put the rights and agency of each victim and survivor at the forefront of all actions and ensures that they are treated with dignity and respect and supported to make informed decisions with regards to accessing protection, support, justice, and remedy based on their own needs and priorities. Such an approach also requires states to keep at the forefront of their minds how the text of the treaty will actually affect victims and survivors, including consideration of how victims and survivors will be able to meaningfully and effectively access their rights through the treaty’s provisions and the institutions implementing them. It emphasizes that seeking justice is a right, not just a privilege, for victims and survivors.

A survivor-centric approach thus requires states to ensure that victims’ and survivors’ rights are robustly protected and set out throughout the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention. International criminal law and international human rights law provide that victims and survivors have rights to: (i) effective protection; (ii) effective support; (iii) notice of their rights; (iv) timely notice of developments during proceedings, including those related to justice and remedy; (v) participate in criminal and other relevant legal proceedings; (vi) have legal representation during criminal and other relevant legal proceedings; (vii) obtain full and effective reparation; and (viii) have reparation awards enforced.

Such an approach also requires that states ensure that all provisions related to protection, assistance, remedy, and reparations for victims and survivors respect and strengthen their autonomy and are provided irrespective of survivors’ ability or willingness to cooperate in legal proceedings against the alleged perpetrator.

In line with the human rights law principle that requires all people to be involved in decision-making that affects them, a survivor-centric approach also requires states to meaningfully engage victims and survivors in treaty development, adoption, implementation and monitoring processes, participating in decisions that impact them, and ensuring that victims’ and survivors’ voices are adequately represented in the final provisions of the treaty. States must understand victims and survivors’ priorities at each stage of the process. For example, in other forums, victims and survivors have identified justice and accountability as a key priority, including by strengthening the ability of international and domestic justice systems to deliver justice for gender-based crimes.

As victims and survivors are not a homogeneous group, when taking a survivor-centric approach, states must give particular consideration to ensuring the substantive equality of victims and survivors who are subjected to marginalization and discrimination, including intersectional discrimination.

This brief first sets out the importance and potential avenues of state action to ensure robust, meaningful, and effective participation of victims and survivors in discussions and decision-making in relation to the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention (Section I). It then highlights specific ways in which the provisions of the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention should be strengthened to reflect international human rights law and standards in line with a survivor-centric approach, namely by: adopting a broad and unambiguous definition of ‘victim’ in the treaty that ensures all individuals harmed by crimes against humanity are included (Section II); and expanding the treaty’s reparations provisions (in present Draft Article 12(3)) to ensure all relevant victims and survivors have access to prompt, full, and effective reparations (Section III). It concludes with a non-exhaustive list of additional examples for consideration that states should include in discussions on the recognition and rights of victims and survivors (Section IV).

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