Human Rights Center studies experiences of International Criminal Court witnesses

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The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley’s School of Law released an empirical study last week documenting the experiences of witnesses who testified for the International Criminal Court, which adjudicates cases involving genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Data included survey answers from 109 victims and witnesses who testified in the first two cases the ICC ever tried. In one case, the accused individual was convicted of enlisting children to participate in armed conflict. In the other case, the accused was found guilty of being an accessory to an attack on a civilian population.The data showed that most witnesses had positive experiences with the services the ICC’s victims and witnesses unit provided and would testify again if needed.

“I think the impact of the study will be two-fold,” said Stephen Cody, director of the atrocity response program at the Human Rights Center and an author of the study. “The first is that the (victims and witnesses unit) looks closely at the data and may make changes to the services that they provide where we found some flaws. But in terms of the the long-term impact, the study has convinced a lot of people at the ICC that they need more ongoing evaluation for witness services and witness protection programs.”

Areas for improvement, according to the study, include communicating with witnesses about traveling to hearings, ensuring promised allowances are paid and assessing witnesses’ long-term needs.

Women rated their overall experience with the unit 4.6 out of five. Men rated it 4.4 out of five. According to the study, 96 percent of women and 93 percent of men surveyed were glad they agreed to testify. The unit provides services such as familiarizing witnesses with court processes and arranging transportation, housing and child care.

The survey, written in 2006, was administered by the victims and witnesses unit in three parts: a pre-testimony survey, an immediate post-testimony survey and a long-term post-testimony survey. About two-thirds weren’t approached for the long-term survey due to distance, ongoing violence or physical inaccessibility.

“Our concern is that these are some of the most vulnerable witnesses going back to communities farthest from ICC support,” said Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center and an author of the study.

Koenig added that although the study recommended locating witnesses to participate in the long-term survey, being associated with an ICC representative could further endanger witnesses.

Researchers also suggested the victims and witnesses unit assess factors contributing to a woman’s ability to testify in international trials and ways to improve access. There were 27female witnesses, compared with 82 male witnesses in the two cases surveyed.

“One of the things we’ve recommended for the survey is that the questions be re-evaluated and additional questions be added to find out what issues women face,” Koenig said. “One thought we have is that perhaps there are different levels of family support and responsibility that mediate the how free women are to participate in international trial.”

Cody added that in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where both cases originated, there are “clear patriarchal hierarchies” that prevent women from traveling on their own or forgoing responsibilities at home.

The atrocity response program is currently working on a multicountry study of victims who participate in ICC trials, which Cody said he hopes will make a significant impact when the ICC reforms its victim-participation program next year.

Contact Anna Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @annajxli.