Establishing victims’ rights and support services in challenging times

9 Dec, 2016

Last week, on 29th of November in cooperation with European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), VSE organised a conference “Establishing victims’ rights and support services in challenging times”

A year after the deadline for implementation of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive, and at a time when Europe is facing numerous economic, social and security challenges, we examined the state of play in EU Member States.

The Conference had a very interesting line-up of great speakers this year.

The conference was opened by VSEs president João Lázaro who gave an inspiring opening speech.  Following, Kathleen Walker Shaw, as a representative of our hosts EESC, highlighted the importance of  support of institutions like the EU parliament and Commission and their responsibility to take notice and actions if progress is not coming quickly and active enough. Ms Shaw stated that there are mayor social and economic consequences of not getting victims’ rights packages right and claimed that victims’ rights should be part of all policy areas as victims’ concerns have far-reaching consequences

Alexandra Jour-Schroeder of DG Justice in the European Commission confirmed their strong dedication to support work on victims’ rights and victim support in Europe. In this light she once more stressed how for the European Commission implementation of the Victims’ Rights directive is priority. Implementation should be complete, correct and working well in practice.

During the conference we had opportunity to hear an incredible testimony from Aimee Metselaar, victim of violent burglary in her home. She concluded her speech by an appeal to all of us working on victim’s rights: ‘Victims of crime should not become victims of the system’.

In the first part of conference we also had opportunity to hear the presentation of Azzzedine Salmane, Associate Legal Officer at UNDOC. From Mr Salmane we heard that UNDOC stands ready to work with victim support organisations specially on technical support.

Roberta Lepre of Victim Support Malta gave us an in depth overview on Victim Support situation in Malta. Roberta made it clear that while developments are going on, there are a number of challenges and practical matters that need to be addressed. Resources need to be allocated to give life to provisions in law and policy.

The first part of the conferenced was concluded by VSE executive Director Levent Altan.

The second part of the conference was dedicated to the Victims of terrorism and was opened by speeches of the victims of the Brussels attacks on 22 March 2016.

Kristin Verellen, partner of Johan Van Steen who died in the attack on 22/3 in Maelbeek, shared her experiences after the horrible events. ‘The world is upside down   I shouldn’t come to you, you should be coming to us. You should come, you should listen and take care of what we can’t in our distraught condition.’ Ms Verellen talked about the difficulties she faced in getting information, support and practical help in the aftermath of the attacks. She calls upon governments and institutions ‘When terrorists hit at the Belgian and European Institutions by killing innocent people, our institutions should own their responsibility to give whatever emotional, administrative and financial support is needed to those who were sacrificed.’

Philippe Vansteenkiste, brother of Fabienne Van Steenkiste who died in the attack on 22/3 in Zaventem, talked about how the attacks broke his life. He expresses the need for a victim to only have to ring the bell at a precise address. From there onwards the paper work and his rights should be managed by competent people. Eddy Van Calster, husband of Fabienne Van Steenkiste who died in the attack on 22/3 in Zaventem, shared his message with the audience: ‘…A hooked system that became a target for the terrorists.  Because you must realise that they didn’t mean to harm the victims personally, but indeed the system.  Why then would the government not undertake action to support the victims? ‘

The voices of the victims were loud and clear – victims of terrorism need to receive victim support.

MEP Monika Hohlmeier who spoke of the European Parliament’s cross-party commitment to ensuring better support for victims of terrorism. Ms Hohlmeier stressed her commitment to standing with the victims. ‘This [supporting victims] is not a duty, this is in the heart of the member states’ responsibilities.’ The EU Directive on Combatting Terrorism, of which MEP Hohlmeier is the rapporteur, aims to have a legal basis to work with as it is clear that what Member States do for victims of terrorism is very different. ‘We want to harmonise to make standards are higher and similar.’

The conference continued with an inspiring and committed speech of Sir Julian King, Commissioner for Security Union, who expressed his commitment to put victims’ rights at the heart of an effective and sustainable security union. Sir King also thanked to victims for talking about experience and talk about how being prepared can make a crucial difference. Sir Julian King’s full speech can be found here.

Presentations were concluded by Kurt De Backer for our member organization Steunpunt Algemeen Welzijnswerk who spoke about victims of the 22.03 Brussels attacks and their actions to support the victims in those days. Kurt discussed the importance of financial resources and coordinated communication. He highlighted the need for the development of coordination centra and expertise centres focused on the psychosocial care for different victim target groups in Europe at least but also preferably in every country. They should be working together internationally in order to tackle the consequences of the acts of internationally organized networks of hate.

At the end our vice president Helgard van Huellen concluded the conference with final statement that European Union and Belgium should ensure that human suffering caused by blind violence will be taken care of in good, emotional intelligent and respectful way.

We are very grateful to Aimee but also to victims of terrorism Kristen, Philippe and Eddy, for their strength and willingness to be with us at the event and to share their stories, to make their voices heard by all of us – victim support organisations, policy makers and institutions.