Are ICC Operational Protective Measures Available to Witnesses Effective?

The ICC presents a unique system of victim and witness protection.  Witnesses may testify before the court to provide facts and overviews, or may testify as victims, insiders and experts. Rule 87 (protective measures) and Rule 88 (special measures) RPE, allow the Court to apply operational protective measures where the life of a witness or those around them is endangered. These measures are as follows: the Initial Response System (IRS), an emergency reallocation system and the International Criminal Court Protection Programme (ICCP), a voluntary relocation service carried out by states parties of the ICC. Witness relocation is handled by the Victims and Witnesses Section (VWS) under the Division of External Operations (DEO) of the Registry. Aside from providing relocation and protection services to witnesses, the VWS also provide psychological support to victims who require support and familiarisation with Court procedures.

The allocated 2021 ICC budget has decreased by 0.7%, raising concern over whether the IRS and ICCP will be able to operate effectively.  The true effectiveness of witness protection programmes are already debatable, given cases such as Bemba where witnesses were bribed to provide false testimonies in trial, making absolute witness protection before trial questionable.  Additionally, the increased withdrawal of African state parties from the ICC further threatens the performance of operational protection measures such as the ICCP. 

The effectiveness of the IRS and ICCP have received little evaluation from the ICC. Therefore, it becomes necessary to examine the effectiveness of the IRS and ICCP to determine the extent their performance will be impacted considering the ICC budget cuts in 2021. This will be considered in two parts.  

Initial Response System (IRS) 

The IRS is a 24/7 emergency response system, providing immediate relocation of witnesses who are, or have the fear of being targeted. The ‘emergency hotline’ activates a network of local actors who then extract the witness to a safe location. The identity of the witness is kept anonymous. Through IRS, a safe environment is created, which reassures the witness in providing testimony. However, the  IRS function relies on strong geographic networks containing multiple witnesses. Therefore, networks may be weaker where there are fewer witnesses in a geographical location.

IRS solely contain basic protocols envisaging relocating the witness to a safe location.  Therefore, in more complex situations, protection for the family of a witness may be ineffective. As a result, a witness may revoke their testimony where the safety of their family is uncertain. Hypothetically,  the increased 2019 ICC budget allocated to judicial, prosecutorial and investigatory activities (46.5%) may have provided further resources for the IRS to improve its networks and overall performance, possibly to extend protection the family of a witness. However, the exact fund and resource allocation to the IRS is unclear, thus it difficult to determine its performance and overall effectiveness.

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