Witness Protection and the ICT in Bangladesh

Written by: Umme Wara, Lecturer of Law, Jagannath University

The free and truthful participation of witnesses to testify before the Court largely depends on the protective and security measures provided by the concerned Court in any crimes Tribunals as witnesses always have some reasonable fear to be suffered furtherance by the defense party. Since 2010, when Bangladesh started the trial of war criminals the security issue of those who testify became an imperative issue to be determined through relevant national instruments and international experiences. In this regard we will look in to the measures for witness and victim protection in other international and hybrid tribunals as well as the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act (ICT), 1973 which can be referred to the proposed law on victim and witness protection as further edition.

The witness and victim protection and support provisions of international and hybrid criminal tribunals: The Statutes of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) inserted provisions for victims and witness protection where the Rules of Procedure and Evidence provided policies to implement those provisions of the statutes effectively. For example, Article 68 of the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court provides that “the Chambers of the Court may, to protect victims and witnesses or an accused, conduct any part of the proceedings in camera or allow the presentation of evidence by electronic or other special means,” noting that these measures should be implemented in particular in the case of a victim of sexual violence. This statutory provision regarding in camera proceedings is implemented through specific sections of Rules 72, 87, and 88 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

Among other functions, these rules define the appropriate use of in camera proceedings consistent with the statute. They also lay out the in camera procedure to consider relevance or admissibility of evidence related to consent in alleged crimes of sexual violence and the specific procedures, including notice requirements, for requesting in camera proceedings and other available measures.

Provisions guaranteeing the victim and witness protection and applying explicit language conditioning these protective measures on the accused’s right to a fair trial are common to all statutes. For example, the statutory language may specify that the measures cannot be prejudicial or that they must not be inconsistent with the rights of the accused.

Summary of approaches to victim and witness protection in different statutes and Rules of Procedure and Evidence:

In order to properly understand the protections that the ICT affords to witnesses, it is important to look at the approaches taken by the other existing international criminal tribunals.

ECCC approach: is a very broad directive that proceedings shall respect the rights of victims and the accused and that the Court shall take measures to protect victims and witnesses. (See specifically Article 33, and Rules 12, 24, 25, 29, and 60).

ICTY and ICTR approach: has a directive that proceedings shall respect the rights of victims and the accused and that the Court shall take measures to protect victims and witnesses. It also contains an explicit provision that victim and witness protection measures shall be incorporated in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence adopted by the judges. (See specifically Articles 14, 19, and in particular Article 21 of the ICTR statute, Articles 15, 20, and in particular Article 22 of the ICTY statute and Rules 34, 53, 69, 70, 75, 77 and 79,ICTR and ICTY )

SCSL approach: the rights of accused to a fair and public hearing are subject to witness protection measures. It also provides for establishment of Victim and Witness Unit offering protective services. It specifies that consideration should be given to employment of prosecutors and investigators experienced in gender-related crimes. (See specifically Articles 15, 16, and 17 of the statute, and Rules 34, 69, 70, 75, and 79)

STL approach:  the rights of accused to fair and public hearing subject to witness protection measures. It provides for establishment of Victim and Witness Unit offering protective services and for participation of victims in proceedings. It provides for access to victim compensation. There is an explicit provision that victim participation and victim and witness protection measures shall be incorporated in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence adopted by the judges. (See specifically Articles 12, 16, 17, 25, and 28 of the statute and Rules 50, 51, 52, 93, 116, 133, 137, 139, 159, and 166).

ICC approach: Comprehensive statutory provisions establishing Victim and Witness Unit and specifying victim and witness protection obligations of Prosecutor, pre-trial chamber, and trial chamber provide protective measures, particularly in cases of sexual violence. Also includes provisions on victim participation, reparations, a victim trust fund, and specific provisions for the protection of victims involved in requests for assistance. (See specifically Articles 43, 53, 54, 57, 64, 75, 79, 87, and in particular Article 68 of the statute and Rules 16, 17, 18, 19, 43, 72, 76, 81, 87, 88, and 112)

ICT: Though the 1973 Act does not contain any provision regarding witness and victim protection, the Rules of procedure has been amended in June 2011 where the term “Victim” has been defined (Sub Rule 26 in Rule 02) as a person who has suffered harm as a result of commission of the crimes under section 3(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.” Besides, under the new Chapter VIA, a new Rule 58 A(1) has been inserted on Witness and Victim Protection which says “[t]he Tribunal on its own initiative, or on the application of either party, may pass necessary order directing the concerned authorities of the government to ensure protection, privacy and well-being of the witnesses and or victims. This process will be confidential and the other side will not be notified”. Sub Rule 02 inserted arrangements of accommodation of witnesses or victims and other necessary measures regarding camera trial and keeping confidentiality as necessary where violation of such undertaking shall be prosecuted under section 11(4) of the Act.

The success of these protective measures is yet to be proved especially with regard to the sexual violence witnesses. Besides holding the camera trial, the Tribunal should take other protective measures so that the witnesses come forward more to testify before the Tribunal.

Lastly, the proposed national law on victim and witness protection addresses many significant needs of members of this vulnerable group, and acknowledges the importance of support mechanisms that address physical, psychological, and economic wellbeing of victims and witnesses who will testify before the Court. However, the proposed legislation does not provide comprehensive measures compared to those provided by international and hybrid criminal tribunals. So if we want to ensure the safety and security for witnesses of any crime in future, we need to take certain guidelines from the international and hybrid tribunals which are consistent and feasible to the present socio-economic context of Bangladesh.

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