The successes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have depended greatly on the willingness of victims and witnesses to testify and to cooperate with the two Tribunals. The Mechanism, responsible for safeguarding their legacies, gives paramount importance to the continuity of the services related to the protection, safety and well-being of victims and witnesses under its competence.
Each branch of the Mechanism has an independent Witness Support and Protection Unit (WISP), responsible for providing protection and support to witnesses, taking into account the nature of the conflict, geographical location, and cultural setting in which the respective WISP Unit operates.
The WISP Unit in Arusha assumed its tasks of providing protection and support to witnesses from 1 July 2012, while the Unit in The Hague began operations on 1 July 2013.
Both Units operate through their respective field offices, in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Article 20 of the Statute of the Mechanism entrusts the Mechanism with the protection of victims and witnesses in relation to the ICTY, the ICTR and the Mechanism. With the respective closure of the ICTR and the ICTY in 2015 and 2017, the Mechanism now assumes all functions pertaining to the protection of victims and witnesses in completed cases from the two Tribunals as well as ongoing cases before the Mechanism.
The Mechanism is committed to ensuring the security of victims and witnesses under its competence by continuing to use a number of protective measures. Such protective measures include non-disclosure of the identity of the witnesses, closed court sessions, and other appropriate measures to facilitate the testimony of vulnerable victims and witnesses, such as the use of one-way close circuit television during testimony. In exceptional cases, the Mechanism may also deploy extrajudicial protective measures, such as the temporary or permanent relocation of witnesses, in cases where either the parties to the case or the witness themselves make such a request.
The Mechanism carries out its mandate, and provides continuous protection and support for all the victims and witnesses, through its Witness Support and Protection Unit, which is established under Rule 32 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and is guided by the Practice direction on the provision of support and protection services to victims and witnesses, adopted on 26 November 2019.
WISP provides services related to the assessment and implementation of judicial and, where necessary, extrajudicial protective measures, in accordance with Article 20 of the Statute. WISP considers all requests for protection independently and undertakes a series of steps to address the assessed level of risk to which a witness may be exposed as a result of his or her testimony. WISP then deploys innovative risk reduction strategies, which may include providing the witness with advice regarding the management of their personal security or facilitating the assistance of national and local security organs and authorities in their countries of residence to address the witness’s concerns.
Fundamental to the protection mandate, WISP provides support services to victims and witnesses under the competence of the Mechanism before, during and after the witnesses’ testimony. To the extent possible, WISP strives to ensure that the experience of testifying does not result in further harm, suffering or trauma to the witness. WISP establishes and maintains regular contact with witnesses and provides them with essential information regarding their testimony, as well as their rights, obligations and entitlements. As testifying can be a difficult experience for many victims and witnesses, support includes psychosocial counselling in order to ensure, to the extent possible, the psychosocial and physical well-being of victims and witnesses who have appeared before the Tribunals or the Mechanism. WISP is also responsible for the movement of witnesses from their countries of residence to the respective seats of the Mechanism. The Unit helps to facilitate the appearance of witnesses before the Mechanism by assisting in making all arrangements related to their availability to testify, including travel logistics.
WISP undertakes a gender sensitive approach for all supportive and protective measures applied to victims and witnesses, including the provision of counselling and medical support to victims and witnesses. WISP takes particular care in the cases of victims of rape or sexual assault.
The success of the protection and support services at the two Tribunals and the Mechanism can be gauged by the recent statistics on the number of witnesses who have benefited from such protection at the respective Tribunals. Many have successfully received medical and psychosocial support to help them overcome the trauma of war and genocide.
The WISP Unit in Arusha ensures the continuity of functions related to the protection and support of witnesses who have testified before the ICTR as well as those who may testify before the Mechanism at this branch location. At the ICTR, approximately 2,200 witnesses have testified and assisted the Tribunal in carrying out its mandate to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in and around the territory of Rwanda in 1994. Currently, the WISP Unit in Arusha provides assistance to about 1,500 witnesses of the ICTR and the Mechanism, as some of the witnesses are now deceased. Almost 88 per cent of the witnesses are currently in the age range of 35-70 years, while 23 per cent of the witnesses are female.
A key aspect of the mandate of the WISP Unit in Arusha is protection facilitation. These measures are deployed in order to reduce the risks associated with testifying and to help ensure that the experience of testifying caused the least possible trauma or harm to the witness. Eighty-four per cent of witnesses, including detainees, have benefited from protection measures as ordered by Trial Chambers and testified through alternative procedures. The remaining 16 per cent of the witnesses who were not provided protection consisted of experts, non-protected witnesses, including detainees, and witnesses who otherwise waived protection. For instance, 77 witnesses have testified via video link and 69 witnesses have testified through statements given under Rule 92 bis of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Several witnesses have benefited from relocation measures as well.
Medical and Psychosocial Support
To further its mandate of providing witness support and protection services prior to, during and after testimony, the WISP Unit in Arusha provides witnesses residing in and outside of Rwanda with essential medical and psychosocial support services. Such services reinforce protection measures, which alone cannot address the trauma experienced by victims and witnesses. The services seek to also foster an environment in which testifying can be a positive and strengthening experience. Counselling, particularly for victims of sexual assault, serves as a tool towards more general healing and reconciliation.
In Rwanda, where a large majority of the witnesses reside, the WISP Unit is supported by its field office based in Kigali. Formerly under the ICTR, the Kigali Field Office established in 2004, continues to provide, through the WISP Clinic, essential support to witnesses who suffer from psychological or physical ailments caused as a result of the genocide, including female witnesses who contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of rape. In its first year, the Kigali Field Office provided treatment to 211 victims and witnesses. Currently, nearly 995 victims/witnesses attend the WISP Clinic on a regular basis. The clinic provides an average of 250 to 300 consultations per month. From February 2004 until November 2018 the Clinic has provided some 35,000 consultations. The Office supports 112 victims and witnesses living with HIV/AIDS.
During the tenure of the ICTR, the Kigali Field Office was the first stop for all victims and witnesses living in Rwanda who appeared before the ICTR. The Office assessed the readiness and fitness of the witnesses to travel 470 miles from Kigali to the Tribunal or to the Mechanism branch in Arusha, Tanzania. The Office continues to serve this function for the Mechanism.
The Hague Branch
The WISP Unit in The Hague ensures the continuity of functions related to the protection and support of witnesses who have testified before the ICTY as well as those who testify before the Mechanism. Approximately 4,700 witnesses have testified and assisted the ICTY in carrying out its mandate to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, established by the Security Council resolution 827 of 25 May 1993. This number includes those who have testified multiples times, given multiple and video-linked testimonies and acted as support persons, Approximately 72 per cent of the witnesses are currently in the age range of 41 – 70 years and 13 per cent of the witnesses are female.
Protection facilitation is a key aspect of The Hague Unit of the WISP as well. Approximately thirty per cent of the witnesses, including detainees, have received protection measures as ordered by Trial Chambers, and have testified through various procedures. For instance, 187 witnesses have testified via video link, and nearly 2,000 witnesses have testified through statements given under Rule 92 bis and ter of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence. A small percentage of witnesses have benefited from relocation measures. These measures were deemed necessary to facilitate the testimony of vulnerable victims and witnesses and for their privacy and protection.
Social and Psychosocial Counselling Services
The WISP Unit in The Hague continues to provide witnesses with tailored, practical and psychosocial support, including counselling. The office operates with the highest level of integrity, impartiality and confidentiality. The Unit ensures all witnesses are informed about their rights and entitlements and have equal access to the services of the unit. In addition to providing direct provision of a high standard of professional support to the witnesses, the Unit advocates for the needs of witnesses within the legal institution by putting the rights of witnesses on the Court agenda.
The WISP Unit in The Hague is assisted by a field office based in Sarajevo. The field office is pivotal to the work of the main office by providing victims and witnesses from the former Yugoslavia with easy and expanded access to the Hague Branch for support and protection services.
The WISP Unit has developed a number of tools in order to alleviate problems linked with witnesses’ appearance after testimony. The Sarajevo Field Office, for example, has put into place a network of international and national agencies, including NGOs both in the region and in third countries, to which witnesses can be referred to for legal or social assistance. The identification and cultivation of new contacts within the region is an important factor that assists the WISP Unit in improving its efficiency and quality of work.
Echoes of Testimonies: a Unique Research Project (Dataset)
To better understand the experience of testifying, the Victims and Witnesses Section (VWS) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Castleberry Peace Institute of the University of North Texas (UNT) together conducted a pilot study into the long-term impact of testifying on witnesses who were called to testify before the ICTY.