European Day for the Victims of Crime

by: in Law
Suzan van der Aa

On February 22, it's the 'European Day of the Victim'. On this day, various organizations at home and abroad pay attention to victims of criminal offenses. For example, Victim Support Europe organizes a symposium in Brussels titled 'Leave No Victim Behind: Victims' Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals'. This event is a good example of how victim organizations gratefully make use of international and supranational instruments - in this case, the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations - which aim (partly) to improve the position of victims.

The role of international laws and regulations has been of great significance for this position. An important milestone in this regard is the EU Council Framework Decision of March 15 regarding the status of the victim in criminal proceedings (2001/2020/JHA). This framework decision was not only remarkable because it was the first binding supranational instrument in the field of victim rights, but also because the EU at that time was not actually authorized to 'interfere' in this criminal law subject. Under the three-pillar structure of the Maastricht Treaty, this was essentially a matter for the member states. Nevertheless, the then EU Commissioner for Justice, Anita Gradin, managed to establish EU competence in this area by invoking the issue of cross-border victims. Cross-border victims are in a disadvantageous position compared to 'regular' victims because they often do not know the language, understand the foreign legal system less well, and often have returned to their home country before any legal proceedings begin. This leads to unequal treatment of cross-border victims and is at odds with the free movement of persons.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, the link between classic freedoms and victim rights is no longer necessary. However, it is remarkable that it is precisely the cross-border victims, who originally prompted EU intervention, who are still treated stepmotherly compared to 'regular' victims.

Soon a book[1] will be published in which national experts report on the difficulties these victims struggle with and the measures countries have taken to support them. In the Netherlands, various special provisions have been introduced aimed at addressing the problems of cross-border victims, such as the right to an interpreter or translation, the possibility to participate in criminal proceedings via a video link, or the option to file a report in the Netherlands in certain cases of a criminal offense committed abroad. The conclusion of my (exploratory) research is that although the Netherlands on paper provides for the special needs of cross-border victims, in practice, things sometimes seem to go wrong[2]. This is the case, for example, with the right to file a report in the Netherlands of a criminal offense committed abroad. A respondent indicated that not all police officers were willing to take such reports.

However, compared to various other countries, the Netherlands seems to have things reasonably well in order. Dutch citizens victimized abroad are often worse off, for example, because participation via a video link is not allowed at all, because authorities require victims to file a report at the police station, or because victims are not eligible for compensation through a national Compensation Fund. Furthermore, cooperation between authorities of different EU member states remains complicated, and the situation in certain non-EU countries is presumably even more grim. An overarching problem is that hardly any scientific research has been conducted on cross-border victims.

The issue of cross-border victims is just one example of the difficulties victims still face in 2024. As long as the above and other issues have not been adequately addressed, a 'European Day of the Victim' remains unfortunately necessary.

The book 'Legal and practical barriers of free movement of victims in Europe' is expected to be published in the fall of 2024.

[1] M. Kilchling & Elżbieta Hryniewicz-Lach (eds.), Legal and practical barriers of free movement of victims in Europe, Routledge (forthcoming). 

[2] S. van der Aa, ‘Trans-border victims in the Dutch Criminal Justice System’, in: M. Kilchling & Elżbieta Hryniewicz-Lach (eds.) Legal and practical barriers of free movement of victims in Europe, Routledge (forthcoming). 

  • S. van der Aa

    Suzan van der Aa (1982) is als hoogleraar straf(proces)recht verbonden aan de capaciteitsgroep Strafrecht en Criminologie van de Universiteit Maastricht. Vanaf oktober 2021 is zij tevens voorzitter van deze capaciteitsgroep. In juni 2010 is zij gepromoveerd op een multidisciplinair onderzoek naar belaging (stalking) in Nederland. Hierin combineerde zij juridisch onderzoek met sociaal wetenschappelijke (empirische) onderzoeksmethoden.

    More articles from S. van der Aa