Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Witnesses must be protected

Roundtable for security of those testifying about war crimes.


Security and support are crucial for war crimes witnesses to prevent a repetition of the trauma endured by them during the War of Liberation in 1971, speakers at a roundtable said yesterday.

The International Crimes Tribunal should offer protection to the witnesses appearing before it to ensure an effective trial, they noted at a roundtable, 'Trial of International Crimes Tribunal: National and International Obligations', at the Cirdap auditorium in the city.

“As ironic as it may seem, the moment a victim receives justice may be the moment he becomes the most vulnerable [emotionally],” said Laurel E Fletcher, clinical professor of law at the International Human Rights Law Clinic of University of California.

“This is the time they need support the most”, she said.

The Liberation War Museum organised the programme in association with the International Human Rights Law Clinic of the University of California and Allard K Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School.

Civil society members have a major role to play by bridging the gap between the tribunal and the people and by providing support to the witnesses after the trial, the speakers said.

Security, confidentiality, protection and support of witnesses are vital in the ongoing trial, they said.

While there was no witness protection law, the issue had been incorporated in the International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973, which provides some safeguards, they added.

On December 19, last year, the tribunal had directed the police to investigate the alleged threats received by prosecution witnesses against Sayedee over the phone.

Even yesterday, a witness claimed to have been intimidated by Sayedee's defence counsels at his house in Pirojpur, the speakers said.

Apart from physical protection, the witnesses also need to be mentally prepared about their testimony before the court, as the disclosure may be emotionally traumatising, they added.

Talking about of the standards of the ongoing trial, Secretary General of Sector Commanders' Forum Lt Gen (retd) Harun-ur-Rashid termed the trial as “above international standards, in certain aspects”.

The tribunal granted bail to an accused, did not issue an arrest warrant against Ghulam Azam and asked his lawyer to produce him in court instead. These were instances unheard of in other such trials, he said.

The speakers also highlighted the need for research on genocide, active role of human rights based NGOs in the trial and greater public awareness of the war crimes trial.

Briana Abrams, Sophie Kaiser and Maya Karwande from the University of California, Berkeley, and Tessa Bialek and Freya Pitts from Yale Law School, gave presentations on the topic of discussion.

Hamida Hossain, a human rights activist, Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan, coordinator of the probe agency and Z Tariq Ali, a trustee of Liberation War Museum, among others, spoke at the roundtable.