International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism 2022: the relevance of victim-centered criminal justice responses to terrorism

Abuja, 22 August 2022 – Last Sunday was the fifth commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, which is intended to provide a platform for the voices of victims and survivors of terrorism. Ensuring access to justice for the victims of terrorism so that their interests are also represented in criminal proceedings lies at the heart of UNODC's mission to integrate the victims' perspective in its capacity-building activities.

To this end UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB) has been shining a spotlight on victims’ stories in a weeklong Twitter campaign that can be accessed by clicking on this link.

The campaign has featured victim stories from around the world, including from one anonymous survivor here in Nigeria who shared the lasting impact that the experience of terrorist violence has had on their mental health:

"I feel traumatized because at any moment I become triggered by the sound of their name, loud sounds, and crowds. When they started the violent campaign in this area, bomb explosions and gun shoot sounds was what we heard daily in this community, the street was littered with dismembered body parts, this is what comes to my mind always."

Victims of terrorism can often carry the trauma of their experience with them long after the event itself and often require ongoing psychological, medical, and social support. UNODC helps Member States to review the role their criminal justice systems can play in supporting victims of terrorism as part of their broader counter-terrorism strategy, and has developed a range of practical tools that they can draw upon to support victims and their communities.

While ensuring the effective criminal prosecution of alleged perpetrators is obviously a critical factor in reducing the destabilizing impact that terrorism can have on society at large, supporting victims, giving them a voice, providing them with answers, enabling them to participate in the criminal justice process, and assisting them on their road to recovery can all be equally important in restoring a measure of equanimity.

UNODC has been working in Nigeria for the past nine years to strengthen criminal justice responses to terrorism, and to promote greater accountability for the perpetrators of acts of terrorism while taking a victim-centered approach through the EU-Nigeria-UNODC-CTED Partnership Project.

The project has been generously funded by the EU, which has been unwavering in its support for human rights-based criminal justice responses to terrorism. TheHigh Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, H. E. Josep Borrell, has eloquently explained why this issue matters to EU Member States:

"Justice mechanisms are essential to ensure that the most serious crimes are investigated and prosecuted, perpetrators are held accountable, and victims receive justice, adequate assistance and reparations for the harm suffered… We owe it to the victims. Impunity is not an option. Nowhere, For no one.”

Over the past three years the EU-Nigeria-UNODC-CTED Partnership Project has supported the processing of 2,900 terrorism-related cases, resulting in the release of 2,400 prisoners, the referral of 230 new cases for trial, and the presentation of 22 cases before the Federal High Court in 2021, which resulted in 13 convictions for terrorism-related offences.

As women have frequently been the victims of sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of both ISWAP and JAS, UNODC has also promoted a gender-based approach to prosecuting terrorist violence. Fatima Bello Raji, a legal practitioner in Adamawa State, has personal experience of these interventions, and she commented:

“There is a need to make gender-specific legislation and put in place mechanisms to ensure their implementation in a victim-centered manner. The platform provided by UNODC has fostered greater coordination and collaboration between key actors of the judicial response to terrorism.”

Acts of terrorism and violent extremism continue to harm and kill thousands of innocent people around the world each year, leaving physical, mental, and emotional scars that can persist for decades. The International Day provides us all with an important reminder that by ensuring the voices of victims and survivors are heard we can at least afford them a degree of comfort.

As the Chief of UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch, Masood Karimipour, observed:

“Reconciliation and healing must start with mending the wounds of violence and cruelty. We can do that by supporting those affected in their process and in safeguarding their rights in criminal proceedings.”