When facts are thin on the ground

06 September 2010 by Julia Romasevych and Paul Anstiss

Fact-finding at the international tribunals is not as precise as we think. Nancy Combs, Professor of Law at William and Mary Law School, explores this in her new book 'Fact-finding without facts: the uncertain evidentiary foundations of international criminal convictions'.

What are the basic conclusions of your book?

My basic conclusions are that, for a variety of reasons, witnesses at the ICTR, the SCSL, and the Special Panels for East Timor have a very difficult time providing the kind of testimony that fact-finders need to receive to determine with any kind of certainty who did what to whom. Testimony at these three tribunals is frequently vague, lacking in necessary detail and inconsistent with the witnesses’ previous written statements. Some of these deficiencies stem from innocent causes, such as the witnesses’ lack of education, investigator errors, the need for language interpretation and cultural divergences between the witnesses and courtroom personnel, but some of them stem from witnesses’ efforts to evade or outright lie. And it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other.

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