ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action organized regional roundtable “Good practices and challenges in starting and developing judicial victim support services” in Belgrade on November 28, 2017. The roundtable sought to be a forum for the exchange of experiences and practices in the developing and functioning of victim/witness support services in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
The participants of the roundtable were representatives of courts, public prosecutor’s offices and police from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina who had the opportunity to actively discuss the challenges they face, learn more about the work of their colleagues from other countries in the region as well as about the work of the Dutch Victim Support Service. 05
In the session focused on the exchange of experiences and good practices from the region, victim/witness support services from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia were presented. These services were established more than 10 years ago to provide support to victims and witnesses in war crime trials and over time expanded to include victims/witnesses of other crimes. Representatives of these services gave a comparative overview of the establishment, organization and way of work of their respective institutions and presented the main advantages and challenges which specific organization of the service brought, positive experiences and practice, all of which may serve as guidelines for future development of the services in the countries and jurisdictions where they are currently in the early stage.
The speakers made inter alia the following conclusions and recommendations:
- Continuous promotion of the work of the Service is necessary, both in the judiciary system and beyond, in order to acquire adequate, long-term and sustainable positioning. This requires the permanent effort of the employees, for which there is often insufficient time, but it is inevitable.
- Persons working with the Service should rely on their internal motives in their work, which is above all support to victims and witnesses, and not to wait for the main motivational factor to come from the outside.
- Testifying is only one segment of person’ s everyday life. Witnesses and victims should be observed comprehensively, as persons who have their lives and will keep having their lives after testifying in court. One should not make full-time victims out of them, but show respect for their overall needs and motives, having in mind the complexity of situation they are in after having survived trauma and violence, which can be reactivated due to secondary victimization.
- It is important to specify clearly what kind of support the Service can provide, as well as the roles of other actors in the chain of support and criminal proceedings so that victims and witnesses can know what they can expect. The Service employees should not promise what they are not able to fulfil.
- Both the mandate and capacities of Victim Support Services are limited and it is, therefore, necessary and useful to rely on resources and expertise of nongovernmental organizations and other actors who provide long-term support and assistance. On the other hand, the referral itself should respond to the needs of every specific victim, i.e. to be done towards professional and reliable service providers.
- Assistance and support services that are developed within NGOs are intended to certain categories of victims – the majority of them is available to women victims of different sorts of violence. On the other hand, large groups of victims and witnesses are not covered by services. It is therefore advisable to develop assistance and support services for crime victims in general.
The roundtable was organized within the project “Enhancing Capacities of Newly Established Judicial Victim Support Services” which ASTRA has been implementing with the support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy to Serbia aimed at training and supporting (newly) established victim/witness support services in courts and public prosecutor’s offices in Serbia and Montenegro.