The International Criminal Court (ICC) hosted a conference on protecting vulnerable groups in witness protection from 4 to 5 October 2017. It was the 4th psycho-social conference of the Europol Network in Witness Protection and was attended by psychological experts from 35 countries and international organizations.
At the conference opening, ICC Vice President and Judge Joyce Aluoch spoke of her first-hand experience throughout her judicial career of witnesses making essential contributions to evidence in cases, and the need for those witnesses to receive adequate psycho-social support.
“As a judge,” she said, “I experienced myself the importance of strong protection and support of vulnerable witnesses. Many witnesses were only able to testify about their often horrific ordeal when they were given the necessary psychological support and protection before, during and after testimony. As a Chamber, we benefitted from the psychological assessments of witnesses and the expert advice provided to us by the psychologists in the Registry, especially whenever questions arose about the well-being of witnesses and their ability to testify. Thanks to the psycho-social support and tailor-made special measures, victims of sexual violence were able to provide strong evidence in court.”
Several visiting experts chaired keynote sessions, including Professor Frank C. Verhulst on the psychological assessment of children, Dr Erik de Soir on secondary traumatisation, and Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Simone de la Rie on the psychological assessment and support of refugees, war victims and other vulnerable groups.
Throughout the two-day conference, best practices were shared and recommendations made among ICC experts, visiting scholars and practitioners regarding psychological assessments and interventions in the context of witness protection programmes.. With a focus on supporting vulnerable witnesses, working groups addressed assessment of children, family support, forensic aspects in witness protection, staff welfare models, and monitoring and supporting vulnerable witnesses during the trial phase. Case studies from different countries also offered insight into alternative protection measures.
The ICC Rome Statute provides for witness protection, including psychological well-being. Article 68 of the Rome Statute states “The Court shall take appropriate measures to protect the safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy of victims and witnesses.” According to article 43, measures can include “protective measures and security arrangements, counselling and other appropriate assistance for witnesses, victims who appear before the Court, and others who are at risk on account of testimony given by such witnesses.” It also specifically stipulates that the Registry’s Victims and Witnesses’ Section shall include “staff with expertise in trauma, including trauma related to crimes of sexual violence.”
Source : ICC