On Friday February 26, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law hosted Dr. Rudina Jasini, an attorney and researcher specialising in international criminal and human rights law. The talk was part of the Human Rights in Practice Series, which addresses current issues in human rights practice on the basis of groundbreaking scholarship. Dr. Jasini shared her personal, legal, and scholarly experience with an audience of human right practitioners, lawyers and students. Her research led to a lively dialogue on the participation of victims of mass atrocities as civil parties in international criminal proceedings.
Dr. Jasini’s research with victims of atrocities began in the spring of 2009 at a Pagoda, in Prey Veng province Cambodia when she joined the legal team representing victims in the first case at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC). The testimonies of victims who had suffered unbearable loss and grief at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime “brought victims’ grief and needs ever so close” to Jasini, to the point where she dedicated the next five years of her life to conducting in depth research and analysis on the participation of victims as civil parties in case proceedings. Throughout her presentation, Jasini moved the audience as she shared anecdotes and quotes from personal interactions and interviews with victims that reflected the extent of suffering endured by the Cambodian people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Perhaps one of the most striking contributions of Jasini’s research–which she conducted in the form of victim interviews– is the nuanced picture she drew about the expectations of those who participated in the legal process. In a predominantly Buddhist society with traditions that focus mainly on reconciliation rather than retribution, local expectations often “differ from the view of criminal justice generally held by Western legal systems and within international law itself”. Jasini found that “many interviewees emphasized the importance of the accountability mechanism offered by the ECCC for local rights-holders”. Like many victims who suffer extreme violations of their human rights, also the people of Cambodia participated as participants in the legal process, only to be met with dissatisfaction and disappointment in the end as a myriad of factors limited their access to obtaining actual justice.
Towards the end of her talk, Jasini highlighted the “critical need for well-developed common standards, at both a legal and normative level, to guide the application of victim participation in practice.” Accordingly, she cautioned against expanding the scope of victims’ participatory rights beyond that which courts can deliver. In the end she noted, “the inherent nature and structure of the legal process is not always compatible with notions of personal narrative and social memory, which would find better application in non-legal mechanisms”. Ultimately, she said her “study suggests that recognizing victims’ rights to equal and effective access to justice, providing protection and support as well as adequate and prompt reparation for harm suffered demands a comprehensive and integrated approach, something that courts are not best placed to achieve on their own.”