Representational Practices at the International Criminal Court: The Gap between Juridified and Abstract Victimhood

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Kendall, Sara 

In the context of a special issue on ‘practices’ at the International Criminal Court, this article focuses on the practice of representation, and in particular on the practice of representing victims. As political and social theorists such as Pitkin and Bourdieu have argued with respect to politics, representation does not merely reflect reality, it is constitutive of it. In the ICC, two practices of victim representation have been prevalent. The first is the rather novel and widely welcomed practice of representing victims as participants in ICC proceedings. The second is the older practice of the discursive invocation of victims as the telos of international criminal law. But these two practices lead in different directions. Victim participation in court proceedings has led to the juridification of victimhood — the legal categorisation of victims — and as a result of this juridification, very few individuals are actually personally represented in the Court’s proceedings. The discursive invocation of victims as the telos of the Court’s work has created a deity-like and seemingly sovereign entity — ‘The Victims’ — that transcends all actual victims and corresponds to no individual victim in their particularity. The result of the two practices is an increasing gap between the limited role that victims play in international criminal proceedings due to the juridification of victimhood and the continued presentation of ‘The Victims’ as the raison d’être of international criminal law. The overdetermined presence of the figure of ‘The Victims’ as a rhetorical construct obscures the representative challenges faced by conflict-affected individuals in accessing the form of justice that is practiced in their (abstract) name.

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Law and Contemporary Problems
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Duke University School of Law
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