External Independent Review Submits Report on Alleged Sexual Abuses by ICC Victim Witness Unit Staff Member in DRC

On April 12, 2013, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it had opened an internal inquiry into allegations brought by four individuals under the protection of the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that they had been sexually abused by a former VWU staff member. In its initial press release, the Court stated that it has "a zero tolerance policy towards any form of sexual abuse and is handling these allegations with great rigor and caution." It also stressed that it was taking measures to ensure the safety and security of the four complainants and had also provided them with psychological, medical, and legal assistance. In response to the press release, Ambassador Tina Intelmann, President of the Assembly of States Parties, stated that members of the ICC governing body are "very concerned that Court staff may have been involved in such abominable acts."


On June 6, 2013, upon conclusion of the internal inquiry, the Registrar of the ICC announced that it had commissioned an independent, external review of the allegations. The Registrar reported that a more detailed investigation was now needed because the results of the initial inquiry had confirmed the serious nature of the allegations. In addition, the Registrar expressed a need to conduct a review of operational and management issues to determine whether they may have contributed to the incident. The independent review team was composed of four highly-qualified specialists and given the mandate of establishing "all facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations of sexual crimes and [identifying] all responsible persons, including those responsible for exercising managerial oversight over the suspected perpetrator." Between July and November 2013, the team conducted four investigative missions in the DRC and The Hague.


On December 12, 2013, the independent review team delivered its report to the Registrar, President of the Assembly of States Parties, relevant ICC judges, and the parties concerned. A public version of the report is available here. The review team determined that although only the alleged perpetrator would bear criminal responsibility for the crimes if proven guilty, other members of the VWU had likely engaged in "inappropriate conduct." The review team also confirmed that others had failed in their supervisory, oversight, and management duties, although the team wanted to be clear that engaging in criminal conduct had been the choice of the alleged perpetrator alone.


In the opinion of the independent review team, the incident highlights pervasive institutional shortcomings within the VWU. While the report described the initial response of VWU field staff as "timely and appropriate," it concluded that the Headquarters response "did not seem to comport with the seriousness of the allegations of sexual assault committed by a VWU staff member – the most serious type of allegation such an organization could face." Furthermore, the report highlighted a VWU recruitment process that may be based more on personal friendships than professional skills, an inadequate training regime, lack of a clear supervisory structure, lack of a proper complaints mechanism, and an environment of little to no information sharing as some of the other major shortcomings of the Unit. In short, it called the VWU "a protection program which is not well planned, implemented or organized, and which lacks consistency."


In a December 20, 2013, press release, the ICC announced that it had already taken disciplinary measures with respect to the VWU staff members implicated in the report. The Court concluded by reiterating that "[e]nsuring the safety and security of victims and witnesses is one of the most important duties and priorities of the Court and a cornerstone of fair trials."