Published in July 2018.
This module is a resource for lecturers
Access to Justice (victim's perspective)
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, or human rights violations which might occur within counter terrorism operations, victims, the affected community and, perhaps, the international community (depending upon the nature and scale of the abuses perpetrated), will inevitably and understandably hope to achieve some measure of justice. The focus of this brief section is on the substantive meaning and content of 'justice' from the perspective of victims.
Significantly, while an affected society or the international community may typically conceptualize and seek justice through the prompt and adequate investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of terrorist abuses, the pursuit of justice for victims can be more complicated and nuanced. For many victims the meaning and substantive content of justice may be tangibly different to that recognized and pursued by society and/or the international community. In addition, the extent to which, from the perspective of each victim, justice has been achieved will be measured by them in psychological terms. In pursuing justice, victims are therefore seeking to achieve a degree of mental resolution that enough has been done in response to the harm suffered, such that the abuses are no longer seen by them as unfinished business and they can move forward with their lives. To this extent, in seeking justice, victims could be understood as pursuing a specific psychological goal: a psychological sense that justice in their case has been done - i.e. a sense of justice.
In the aftermath of abuses, a victim's needs may be very specific and complex, depending not only upon the nature of the abuse(s) suffered, but also on their individual losses, the personality of the victim (including issues of resilience), the way their trauma has manifested itself, and the extent to which, if at all, they have recovered from the abuse in psychological terms. Thus, victims of the same terrorist attack, suffering comparable injuries, may have very different justice "needs" in its aftermath.
These needs, in turn, can be wide-ranging and diverse. For some victims, it is imperative that they are given a platform to tell their story and to bear witness on behalf of those who did not survive. For others, justice might be more about exhibiting defiance in the face of their adversity - publicly denouncing the wrongs committed against them and others, or looking the perpetrator in the eye in court to show that they have not been defeated or broken by the act(s). For others still, justice might involve discovering the truth about the violations, including the fate or whereabouts of loved ones, contributing towards accountability, preventing the perpetration of further abuses, achieving mental healing, receiving public recognition of the pain suffered, gaining reparations or an apology, or exacting revenge on those responsible.
The issue of achieving justice for victims at the individual level is further complicated where violations or offences have been committed on a mass or systematic scale, such that there are many victims, and mechanisms established to deal with those abuses are also juggling the need to achieve some level of societal truth and healing. In such a situation, achieving a sense of justice for victims at an individual level can be problematic. At the same time, it must be recognized that crimes of mass victimization are inherently collective in their perpetration and, therefore, engender a complex and interrelated interplay of individual and collective needs in both individual victims and the affected community. Victims' justice aims will therefore be reflective of the multiple capacities within which victims experience international crimes - as individuals, as well as members of an affected community.