A story from the January 30 issue of the Christian Science Monitor, describes what may be considered a serious misstep in the International Criminal Court's (ICC) first trial for war crimes. It was in a case that had been years in preparation by the prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, against Thomas Lubanga, charged with recruiting 30,000 child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The recantation of his testimony be a former child soldier, took the participants totally by surprise at the trial. This inauspicious start to the Court's first case seem to indicate some serious lapses in the Court's responsibility toward its witnesses.The Monitor article states that "Lorraine Smith, of the International Bar Association office at The Hague, points out that ICC judges a year ago adopted a rule disallowing the defense from "proofing" its witnesses – advocating instead a "witness familiarization" approach that is carried out by another court agency."
Some background on these legal concepts of "proofing" and "familiarization" can be found in an article (Developing a System of Justice at the International Criminal Court ) that was mentioned in a previous blog posting, written by an American judge, Joshua Weinstein, in the 2007 California Courts Review. He had spent two and a half months with the staff of the ICC.
In that article he writes, "Witness familiarization and proofing are commonplace practices in the United States. But they are either illegal or unethical in almost all other jurisdictions. Familiarization is simply informing a witness about what to expect in court, explaining how the court process works and what his or her role will be—in other words, explaining the physical layout of the courtroom; the role of the judge (or judges in the case of the ICC), attorneys, and witnesses; and how the testimony will proceed. Proofing is what we in California would call witness preparation and consists of reviewing the witness’s prior statements and expected testimony."
He says that "...the ICC itself has a victim and witness unit that could conduct familiarization and proofing." The witness unit is to be a neutral actor "...whose obligation is to discover the truth and maintain the well-being of witnesses,..."
Given what happened at the trial, one would have to conclude that the witness unit failed on both counts. The child witness was certainly afraid of being clearly identified in the presence of the warlord that he was accusing. The article quotes Paul Williams, an international legal expert at American University in Washington, that "In the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals, combatants could testify as 'Witness X' from a separate room, using a voice modulator. The right for the defendant to confront his or her accuser does not require that they be face to face, but means that they can hear clearly what the witness says."
The witness unit's lack of meaningful "familiarization" and its apparent failure to "maintain the well being of witnesses", has also resulted in the frustration of the Court's mission "to discover the truth".