Therapeutic Prosecutions?

Assessing the therapeutic potential of criminal prosecution of international crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed out its first-ever prison sentence, giving a 14-year jail term to former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

Over the past twenty years, the global community has shown a renewed commitment to the pursuit of international criminal justice. A hallmark development in this regard is the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). A central asset of the court is victim and witness participation, based on an assumption that this approach will benefit those who have been affected by the crimes and their communities. In a recent policy brief we explore the therapeutic potential and pitfalls of this approach based on a literature review, relevant studies in the field and initial interviews at the ICC.

  • A sense of confidence in the system and a feeling of security are vital in order for the ICC to have a positive impact on victims and their communities.
  • The possibility of reparation is important, but can also have adverse effects if perceived as a way of silencing victim’s accounts.
  • The court process may represent a form of social recognition and acknowledgement of what happened which has an important healing potential.

Read more in a recent Policy Brief from PRIO.

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One Comment

Simon Robins

This explores an interesting topic, but appears to add very little knowledge, not being able to challenge the understanding that the ICC appears to be of little relevance to most communities impacted by crimes being tried there. To really answer the question of therapeutic benefit, empirical work must be done in concerned communities – there appears to be none here. My experience in such communities is that the needs of victims prioritise the addressing of medical needs and the economic challenges that defined their lives before violations and were worsened by their victimhood. ‘Participation’ in the Court is no such thing for the vast majority – most remain distant from the process. It is crucial that analyses of the ICC cease being faith-based, and start articulating the true needs of victims, in ways that can ensure resources follow them.

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