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

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