|Handbook on Justice for Victims (UNODCCP, 1999, 132 p.)|
Crime takes an enormous physical, financial and emotional toll on its victims. On 29 November 1985, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (General Assembly resolution 40/34, annex) based on the conviction that victims should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity and that they are entitled to prompt redress for the harm that they have suffered, through access to the criminal justice system, reparation and services to assist their recovery. The Declaration recommends measures to be taken on behalf of victims of crime at the international, regional and national levels to improve access to justice and fair treatment, restitution, compensation and assistance. It also outlines the main steps to be taken to prevent victimization linked to abuse of power and to provide remedies for the victims.
In May 1996, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, at its fifth session, adopted a resolution to develop a manual or manuals on the use and application of the Declaration (Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/14). The Handbook on Justice for Victims was developed in response to that resolution. A brief Guide for Policymakers has also been developed to highlight programmes and policies that have been put into effect in various jurisdictions to implement the Declaration and to ensure that the effectiveness and fairness of criminal justice, including related forms of support, are enhanced in such a way that the fundamental rights of victims of crime and abuse of power are respected.
In the Declaration "victims" are defined in the broad sense as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are violations of national criminal laws or of internationally recognized norms relating to human rights.
The experiences of many countries around the world have shown that one effective way to address the many needs of crime victims is to establish programmes that provide social, psychological, emotional and financial support, and effectively help victims within criminal justice and social institutions. The Handbook is designed as a tool for implementing victim service programmes and for developing victim-sensitive policies, procedures and protocols for criminal justice agencies and others who come into contact with victims. These may include police and other law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, legal and other victim advocates, judges, correctional personnel, health and mental health providers, social workers, ombudsmen, spiritual leaders, civil organizations, traditional leaders, human rights commissions, legislators and elected representatives, and others. It applies similarly to those to whom victims reach out in their immediate circle - to their family, friends and neighbours - and to various informal, spontaneous and indigenous support structures.
The Handbook outlines the basic steps in developing comprehensive assistance services for victims of crime. For example, the first step in the provision of victim services should always be to provide for the physical safety and immediate medical needs of victims. Many victims may also benefit from services such as crisis or long-term counselling, compensation, accompaniment to court and other advocacy services. Certain types of victims may require additional attention that cannot be fully covered in this Handbook. Additional manuals may be required on how to work with individuals who have suffered particular types of victimization such as child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault or hate crime. Additional manuals may further explore responses to victims of torture or other mass victimization occurring where legal and social systems have collapsed or are substantially incapable of fulfilling their functions. Additional manuals may also focus on the work of particular professions.
This Handbook has been drafted recognizing that differences arise when its principles are applied in the context of different legal systems, social support structures and life situations. Not everything outlined in the Handbook will necessarily be appropriate or even possible in different situations. The Handbook is not meant to be prescriptive but to serve as a set of examples for jurisdictions to examine and test. The writers are aware of the difficulties faced throughout the world in identifying resources for victim services. Several of the programmes recommended in the Handbook require significant investments of time, personnel and financial resources; in addition, some recommendations may require legislative changes. In many jurisdictions, therefore, the recommendations may appear unrealistic. Nonetheless, these programmes and their underlying principles have been tested in many countries and found to be successful. They can contribute to meeting fundamental victim needs, speeding recovery, restoring community vitality and securing justice. This investment can provide significant short-term and long-term returns.
Experts from nearly 40 countries have participated in the development of this Handbook. The writers represent only some of the many diverse jurisdictions around the world, however, and only some of the professions helping victims. The viewpoints and experience of persons from particular countries may consequently receive perhaps excessive attention. It is hoped that in the months and years to come, practitioners, researchers and policy makers around the world will contribute information about their own experiences and programmes, tailor the information presented in this Handbook to meet their specific needs and legal systems and offer suggestions on how the Handbook can be improved. Its widest possible relevance will be a continuing aim in the quest to alleviate the plight of victims of crime and abuse of power around the world.