Witnesses Under Threat

On July 15, 2013, President of the Hague Institute, Dr. Abiodun Williams, welcomed the International Bar Association (IBA), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other local and international actors for the launch of IBA’s newest report on the achievements, challenges and needs of witnesses in cases before the ICC. This marks the sixteenth report published by the IBA ICC Programme, which seeks to explore and collaboratively address key legal issues facing the Court.

Following the opening remarks of Dr. Mark Ellis, IBA’s Executive Director, His Excellency Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of the ICC, attested to the centrality of witnesses in advancing international criminal accountability. He insisted that “there would be no international justice if it were not for the brave people who came forward to speak the truth.” Witness protection, he added, was crucial for fair trials and constituted a fundamental right of the accused. His Excellency admitted that these constituencies are uniquely vulnerable given their role in criminal proceedings, yet the Court was required by Article 68 of the Rome Statute to “take appropriate measures to protect the safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy of victims and witnesses.”

A few, germane achievements of the Court were noted, and later reaffirmed by Danya Chaikel, IBA ICC Programme Lawyer. Ms. Chaikel recognized the development of more comprehensive measures by the Court but presented a host of challenges that demand our increased attention. She underscored the following concerns: difficulties with access to witnesses and reliance on their testimony; witness preparation; protection and support of witnesses; state cooperation on these matters; false testimony, witness interference and the ICC’s enforcement regime; and lastly, the legal status of witnesses after delivering their testimony. The roundtable that followed, moderated by Thomas Verfuss, President of the Association of Journalists at the ICC, reflected on these obstacles in greater detail. The role of intermediaries, the process of witness proofing and the balancing of the rights of the accused with the needs for victim protection were some of the salient topics explored.

For a complete copy of the IBA report, Witnesses before the International Criminal Court, please visit theirwebsite.

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