Securing attendance of defence witnesses

Notion(s) Filing Case
Referral Decision - 16.12.2011 UWINKINDI Jean

61. The Appeals Chamber observes that, in assessing the availability of defence witness testimony, the Referral Chamber correctly noted that its role was not to determine whether the witnesses’ fears were well-founded, but instead to focus on the likelihood that Mr. Uwinkindi will be able to secure their appearance on his behalf under the same conditions as those testifying against him.[1] The Appeals Chamber further considers that the Referral Chamber emphasized the need for adequate legal safeguards to address the subjective fears that might discourage witnesses from testifying,[2] and demonstrated awareness of the range of fears expressed by Mr. Uwinkindi’s potential defence witnesses about appearing at a trial in Rwanda. In particular, the Referral Chamber noted that most witnesses feared prosecution under Rwanda’s genocide ideology law, while others feared that they would be killed, abducted, transferred to prisons away from their families, or persecuted in prison as a repercussion for their testimony, or that their family members would be subjected to retaliation.[3]

62. The Appeals Chamber considers that the Referral Chamber acted within its discretion in finding that the recent amendments to relevant laws and enhancements to witness protection services constitute sufficient assurances to address defence witnesses’ concerns and to help secure their appearance. Notably, with regard to securing witnesses’ appearances, the Referral Chamber considered: (i) defence and amicus curiae submissions indicating past cases in which defence witnesses have been subjected to prosecutions, intimidation, and actual or threatened violent reprisals for testifying; and (ii) previous findings by the Appeals Chamber in Rule 11bis decisions confirming fear of these consequences as obstacles to securing defence witness testimony.[4] Despite the similarity between the concerns expressed by defence witnesses in this case and those in previous referral cases, the Referral Chamber acted within its discretion in finding it “logical to assume that with the amendments made to [the Transfer Law] regarding witness immunity, the creation of a new witness protection programme, and the safeguards imposed by the Chamber on Rwanda,” the Appeals Chamber’s previous findings that witnesses may be unwilling to testify are “no longer a compelling reason for denying referral.”[5]

64. The Referral Chamber acted within the scope of its discretion in relying on the existence of such a legal framework as a primary basis for determining whether an accused will be able to secure the attendance of reluctant witnesses.[6] The Appeals Chamber has previously held that a designated trial chamber could reasonably deny referral notwithstanding the existence of this framework, largely due to the specific finding that the accused may face difficulties in securing the attendance of witnesses to the extent that it would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.[7] However, it is equally within the discretion of a trial chamber to find that the ability to compel testimony is a factor which can be taken into account in addressing the subjective fears of defence witnesses. The Appeals Chamber is satisfied that the Referral Chamber had a reasonable basis to conclude that Mr. Uwinkindi will be able to secure the attendance of witnesses.

66. The Appeals Chamber notes, however, that the existence of witness protection services and a regime for obtaining compulsory process is not necessarily a panacea for securing the testimony of defence witnesses who have obtained refugee status in countries outside Rwanda. It would be unreasonable to require refugees, for whom a well-founded fear of persecution upon returning to Rwanda has been determined, to appear as witnesses in Rwanda before the High Court. The Referral Chamber considered, however, that the Transfer Law allows for alternative methods of obtaining testimony from witnesses abroad: by deposition, video-link, or a judge sitting in a foreign jurisdiction.[8] Given the variety of alternative means available under the Transfer Law for securing such testimony, the Appeals Chamber is not convinced that the Referral Chamber committed a discernible error by failing to determine whether video-link was technically feasible in each of the countries where Mr. Uwinkindi’s potential witnesses are located.

67. The Appeals Chamber further notes that it would be a violation of the principle of equality of arms if the majority of defence witnesses appeared by means substantially different from those for the Prosecution.[9] However, the Appeals Chamber notes that Mr. Uwinkindi has not identified how many of his potential witnesses might fall into this category or that it constitutes a sufficiently significant part of his possible evidence. It cannot be said that hearing a portion of evidence from either party by alternative means per se amounts to a violation of an accused’s rights. The relevant inquiry is a fact-based assessment that is best left to a chamber with a fully developed record as to the nature of the evidence against the accused, and with specific knowledge of the nature of the proposed defence case and the relevant sources of evidence.

[1] Impugned Decision, paras. 85, 90.

[2] Impugned Decision, para. 103.

[3] Impugned Decision, paras. 88-90.

[4] Impugned Decision, paras. 99, 100.

[5] Impugned Decision, para. 100.

[6] Cf. Stanković Appeal Judgement, para. 26.

[7] See [The Prosecutor v. Ildephonse Hategekimana, Case No. ICTR-00-55B-R11bis, Decision on the Prosecution’s Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis, 4 December 2008], paras. 22-25, 30.

[8] See Impugned Decision, paras. 109, 112, 113.

[9] See [The Prosecutor v. Yussuf Munyakazi, Case No. ICTR-97-36-R11bis, Decision on the Prosecution’s Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis, 9 October 2008], para. 42.

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