Remedies for victims of violations of international humanitarian law
30-09-2003 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 851, by Liesbeth Zegveld
This article argues – on the basis of an overview of the legal means to obtain redress for violations of international humanitarian law available at the domestic and international level – that while there is little doubt that victims enjoy rights under international humanitarian law, their rights do not appear to be justiciable and are as such difficult to transform into a right to a remedy.
International humanitarian law ensures the protection and provision of assistance to the victims of armed conflicts. However, once individuals become the victim of violations of international humanitarian law, the protection offered by this body of law effectively ceases. In particular, the law on its face offers victims of serious violations of this law little or no means of obtaining redress.
International humanitarian law sharply contrasts on this point with tendencies in international law. The related but separate body of human rights law clearly articulates a legal right to a remedy for violations of fundamental rights. Most recently, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court authorizes the Court to determine any damage, loss or injury to victims and prov ide reparations to them. Humanitarian law, however, does not expressly guarantee victims of violations of the law any right to a legal remedy.
This paper examines the legal ways and means currently available under domestic and international law to victims of violations of international humanitarian law to have their primary rights respected. It explores the question of whether victims have the right to a remedy and the extent to which this right can be enforced, if at all. On the basis of a brief survey of national and international practice, it will be argued that while there is little doubt that victims enjoy rights under international humanitarian law, their rights do not appear to be justiciable and as such difficult to transform in a right to a remedy.