International Recognition of Victims' Rights

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2006


Since its inception, the United Nations has adopted two General Assembly resolutions dealing with the rights of victims: the 1985 Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power and the 2006 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law. The focus of the former was on victims of domestic crimes, while that of the latter is on victims of international crimes; more particularly, gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law. The 2006 Principles are, for all practical purposes, an international bill of rights of victims. Their adoption has been hard-fought, but their implementation both at the national and international levels is sure to still face many obstacles. Parallel to this historic development have been decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as provisions in the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), giving standing to victims in ICC proceedings, but also certain rights of compensation. These parallel developments, as well as others within domestic legal systems, evidence a wide movement towards the recognition of the rights of victims of crime, whether domestic or international, or gross violations of human rights. This article re-traces the historic origin of victims' rights in domestic and international legal systems, focusing particularly on the adoption of the two international instruments mentioned above, and more particularly on the negotiating history of the 2006 Principles. A detailed commentary of these Principles constitutes the centerpiece of this article.