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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 1998 - Winter > A Step Toward Meeting the Rights of Victims

A Step Toward Meeting the Rights of Victims

January 1, 1998

In most criminal justice systems throughout the world, victims of crime are rightfully called the "forgotten persons." Considerable attention has deservedly been paid to ensuring due process for defendants. Because the state was assumed to represent the best interests of society (including victims), there did not seem to be a need for special provisions for victims, despite the enormous physical, financial and emotional toll crime takes on them.

A fundamental reformulation of the role of the victim came with the adoption by consensus of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (GA/Res/40/34) by the General Assembly in November 1985. This decision reflected the collective will of the international community to restore the balance between the fundamental rights of suspects and offenders, and the rights and interests of victims.

This "magna carta" for victims recognizes that victims should be treated with compassion and respect. It recommends measures to improve their access to justice and prompt redress (restitution, compensation and necessary assistance, including specialized assistance for healing from trauma) for the harm they have suffered.

The adoption of an international instrument, however important, is only a first step toward improvements in practice. It must be implemented on the international, regional, national and local levels. Initiatives aimed at implementing the principles of the Declaration occurred during the following decade, led by both governments (adopting appropriate legislation and programs) and nongovernmental organizations (developing training and advisory capacities and model practices) (for details, see Danieli et al., 1996).

To improve upon these efforts and foster coordinated implementation, an Expert Group Meeting on Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power in the International Setting was held in Vienna in December 1995. It considered the main elements to be included in a draft manual on the use and application of the Declaration and elaborated an integrated approach, as well as a concerted plan of action. Drawing on the recommendations of the Expert Group that were adopted by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in its Fifth Session, the UN Economic and Social Council adopted resolution 1996/14, which recognized the desirability of preparing draft manual(s) on the use and application of the Declaration. While acknowledging that the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power contained in the UN Declaration are inclusive enough to transcend national and cultural specificities, the Council called for the manual(s) to take into account the different legal systems and practices of each State.

Accordingly, the Office of Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice hosted an Expert Group Meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma in August 1996 to develop the first draft "International Victim Assistance Training [Manual] on the Use and Application of the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power." It outlines main elements of assistance to victims: (1) development of effective victim service programs focusing on the impact of victimization, crisis response and intervention, counseling and advocacy, participation in the justice system, victim compensation and restitution; (2) responsibilities of professionals and volunteers to victims, e.g., police officers, prosecutors and medical personnel; (3) integration of victim needs in national law, policy and planning and the formulation of the technical assistance requirements and projects; and (4) international cooperation to reduce victimization and assist victims.

Portions of The Initial Report of the Presidential Task Force on Curriculum, Education and Training of the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (J. Krystal, chair; Y. Danieli, 1989 ISTSS president) were incorporated into the handbook. The U.S. National Center for PTSD and 1996 ISTSS President Matthew Friedman assisted.

A briefer manual, primarily for use by policy makers, was prepared in 1997. But as Eduardo Vetere, head of the UN CPCJ Programme, observed, despite progress in a number of countries, there are still situations where the Declaration is very little applied. This is true of victims of crime, and even moreso of victims of abuse of power.

Reference

Danieli Y., Rodley N.S., and Weisaeth L. (Eds.) (1996). International Responses to Traumatic Stress... Published for and on behalf of the United Nations by Baywood Publishing, Amityville, New York.

In memory of Morton Bard, a fellow
pioneer victim advocate and a friend.