The conduct of the OTPs of international tribunals has often been questioned with regards to witnesses. I recently blogged about the stay of proceedings in the Lubanga trial at the ICC, following the Prosecutor’s refusal to follow the court order requiring him to provide a list of certain intermediaries whose conduct in relation to witnesses had been questioned by the defense. At the Special Court for Sierra Leone, there have been allegations that prosecution witnesses were bribed to obtain their testimony.
In relation to this, I have just become aware of this order from Trial Chamber III in the Seselj case, ordering an independent amicus curiae investigations into allegations by the defendant that the Prosecutor exercised pressure on a certain number of witnesses to secure evidence against him.
The motion for contempt proceedings against, among others, Carla del Ponte was initially filed confidentially in 2007 and the Chamber had ordered “ordered a stay for purposes of ruling on the Motion for Contempt until the conclusion of the trial in order to avoid delaying the start of the trial”. However, in light of new evidence, the Chamber decided to exercise its proprio motu powers to reconsider its decision.
The Defense provided a list of alleged misconduct by the Prosecution, as illustrated in the following paragraph:
17. The Statements allege as fact that the Prosecution indeed contacted these persons and that interviews were indeed conducted by investigators working for the Prosecution. As such, the Statements mention sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological pressuring, an instance of blackmail (the investigators offered relocation in exchange for the testimony they hoped to obtain), threats (one, for example, about preparing an indictment against a witness if he refused to testify), or even illegal payments of money. According to certain Statements, the testimony produced from the interviews with the investigators from the Prosecution was not (or almost never) re-read by the persons signing it. In the Statement signed by [redacted], there is even an account of him allegedly signing the first page and the members of the Prosecution allegedly signing his initials on the other pages themselves. In the Statement signed by [redacted], there is mention that he allegedly had an interview with the members of the Prosecution in a public place. Lastly, in the Statement signed by [redacted], it is mentioned that he was allegedly poisoned.
In light of this, the Chamber held that:
29. This information is taken quite seriously by the Chamber, which refuses to allow any doubt to fester concerning a possible violation of the rights of the Accused and concerning the investigation techniques employed by certain members of the Prosecution in this case.
and therefore “the Chamber finds that an amicus curiae ought to investigate the Motion for Contempt and inform the Chamber whether there exist prima facie sufficient grounds to initiate a proceeding for contempt against certain members of the Prosecution.” The investigator should be designated by the Registrar (which hasn’t done it yet, to the best of my knowledge) and will be given 6 months to investigate.
Given the gravity of the alleged conduct, one would also expect the proceedings to be stayed until the conclusion of the investigation, but apparently this has not been ordered.
Hat-tip to Priyanka