Atrocity Response Program

About the program

Ocampo and Bensouda
Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first chief prosecutor of
the International Criminal Court in The Hague,
and Fatou Bensouda, the current chief prosecutor.
Photo credit: Coalition for the ICC

In 2013 the Human Rights Center launched the Atrocity Response Program to bring advances in science and technology to bear on investigations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The program works to protect victims and witnesses of the worst human rights crimes and develops tools, including improved information sharing and investigative procedures, to prevent and document these crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Bringing scientific and technological innovation to war crimes investigations

Successful prosecutions of war crime suspects depend on the ability of investigators to gain access to crime scenes in a timely manner and employ the most efficient technologies and scientific methods to gather the evidence that will hold up in court. Nongovernmental organizations on the ground during or immediately after conflicts are often better positioned to document international crimes, yet may lack the training to ensure the evidence they gather is court-admissible. The Atrocity Response Program seeks to improve human rights monitoring, evidence collection, and the prosecution of serious crimes by building networks between grassroots organizations, war crime investigators, technology experts, and research scientists.

Supporting and protecting victims and witnesses 

Witnesses are the lifeblood of trials involving international crimes. Most victims and witnesses have survived or witnessed mass killings, rape, torture, inhumane imprisonment, forced expulsion, and the destruction of their homes and villages. For many, testifying in a war crimes trial requires an act of great courage, especially when perpetrators still walk the streets of their villages and towns. Yet, despite these risks, little has been done to help the International Criminal Court and national courts to assess the efficacy and security of its programs and services for victims and witnesses. The Atrocity Response Program conducts studies to provide feedback to courts about what victims and witnesses have found most helpful and meaningful, and where improvements might be made.

Putting complementarity into practice

The International Criminal Court is unable to prosecute all those responsible for crimes against humanity and other international crimes. As a result, an increasing number of domestic courts have begun investigating and adjudicating international crimes. Yet little is known about how these courts will manage, protect, and provide services to witnesses. The Atrocity Response Program conducts studies of national court systems in countries where serious human rights violations have occurred to determine what improvements can be made to ensure the security of trial participants and meet the medical and psychosocial needs of vulnerable communities.