Grant victims access to justice to realise their fundamental rights too

Millions of people in the EU fall victim to crime every year. On European Day for Victims of Crime on 22 February, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights calls on Member States to ensure the rights of victims take centre stage. Only then will they truly have access to the justice that they deserve and are entitled to.

Victims rely on effective and inclusive criminal justice systems. Such systems offer guarantees that crimes do not go unpunished. Without this, victims of violent crimes will feel their rights are not being respected and their right to receive fair and equal treatment is being abused.

The EU’s Victims’ Rights Directive of 2012 was a significant milestone in setting out minimum binding standards. They grant people who have been victims of crime the right to understand and be understood, the right to receive support and the right to individual assessment. They also reinforce existing rights, including the right to be informed.

To date, progress across Member States has been slow since the deadline to implement the Directive passed in 2015. Much still remains to be done. In most Member States, the rights of all victims to receive appropriate support is yet to become reality. Many– including women or victims of racism – still live in fear of being attacked again. And their right to be properly involved in criminal proceedings is often not realised.

For its part, FRA will continue to support the development of victims’ rights in the EU. Its surveys continue to uncover how often people, such as women, children and minorities, fall victim to crime. Its research looks into why under-reporting is so high and identifies promising practices that help to build more inclusive justice systems for victims.

As FRA and others have shown, women in particular are often attacked, harassed and discriminated against. In 2017, the EU signed the Council of Europe’s Convention against violence against women (‘Istanbul Convention’). Alongside all other EU Member States that have also signed, this should mark a turning point in preventing and protecting all women from gender-based violence.

EU Member States must review their criminal codes to make sure that violence against women is criminalised. This includes all forms of non-consensual sexual acts, psychological violence, and stalking. It also applies to domestic violence committed against a – current or former – partner. In addition, women must also have access to specialist support.

This is one example of how the rights of one group of victims, women, are being better protected. It is time for Member States to grant all victims their legally entitled rights to be properly protected, supported and to justice.