Interviews of witnesses, who benefit from measures ensuring their anonymity, are accessible to the public only after their testimony. Closed-door sessions, which are already numerous, could become the norm.
The threat was carried out. The judges of the trial chamber in charge of the case of The Prosecutor vs. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé decided today to put an end to public hearings for all witnesses granted protective measures.
Limited public release
Consequently, when hearings resume on June 27, if protective measures are granted to witnesses, such as the use of a pseudonym, image and voice editing, as well as potential closed-door sessions for some passages, “the public release of the trial will be delayed until the end of the witness’s testimony” said Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser. In addition to this, those wishing to follow the trial in The Hague directly in the public gallery shall systematically have their names on a list that shall include their nationality, in particular.
“These measures will restrict the possibility for the public to follow the trial live,” the judge specified. He added that this decision is possible because “the principle of public debate is not absolute” for, in spite of the defendants’ right to a public hearing, the International Criminal Court (ICC) also has the duty to take all appropriate measures to protect witnesses.
“A very serious risk to the integrity of the trial”
The decision, which was announced after many discussions both behind closed doors and in public on this subject, came as the questioning of Witness P-520 had just ended. The question of his identity had indeed been the subject of online speculation, and the Presiding Judge considered that attempts to discover the names of witnesses speaking with their faces hidden have been going on and are “significantly disrupting proceedings.”
He therefore justified resorting to these “strict” measures by the fact that they present a “very serious risk to the integrity of the trial” and witness protection. Judge Tarfusser, who threatened long ago the possibility of such a measure, also wished to recall that the chamber considered that these attempts to identify witnesses have nothing to do with “freedom of expression or opinion” but they are, on the contrary, “unfortunate and deplorable behavior.”
Witness protection and the Kenyan case
In the past, the court encountered serious problems regarding the protection of witnesses. In 2015, a key witness in the trial of the Kenyan vice-president was assassinated. In addition to this, many witnesses eventually refused to testify before the court. Due to lack of evidence, the trial did not proceed to its scheduled end.
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice , a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.