The ICC's trouble with witnesses

24 February 2015 by Tjitske Lingsma, The Hague (The Netherlands)

This is the first in a series of articles delving into the challenges faced by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court. In our next issue, Tjitske Lingsma focuses on the use of intermediaries in situation countries. In the third article, we examine the growing importance of technological evidence, like phone records and computer data, to reduce the reliance on witness testimony.

President Kenyatta and his defence team, with lawyer Steven Kay in first row, at 8 December 2014 status conference (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
President Kenyatta and his defence team, with lawyer Steven Kay in first row, at 8 December 2014 status conference (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

For evidence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) depends almost entirely on witnesses.  But several high-profile cases at The Hague court have been plagued by dubious testimony. IJT asked legal experts what the court faces as a result and why this problem has been so prevalent.

So far, in the ICC cases involving the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Kenya, the prosecutor has had little by way of documents or video evidence. As such, “testimony is key,” notes Nancy Combs, a professor at William & Mary Law School. But testimonies have not always been reliable. “The overarching problem,” she says, “is that the credibility of many witnesses is questionable.” 

Pressuring witnesses

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.