The Witness and Victims Section was established pursuant to Article 16 of the Special Court Statute, to provide all necessary support and protection to witnesses appearing for both Prosecution and Defence, and to establish measures for short-term and long-term protection and support. Following the conclusion of all witness testimony in the Court’s four cases, the majority of witness support and protection staff was downsized and the Unit was merged with the Security Section.
A total of 547 witnesses testified in the Special Court’s four cases: 316 testified for the Prosecution and 231 for the Defence. 68 of the Prosecution witnesses and 26 of the Defence witnesses were women. Eighteen former child soldiers gave evidence, five in the CDF trial, four in the RUF trial (with one of these common to the Taylor trial and one with the AFRC trial); five testified in the AFRC trial (with one in common with the RUF trial and one with the Taylor trial), and five testified in the Taylor trial, with one of these in common with the AFRC trial and two in common with the RUF trial. Only two of these were still under the age of 18 when they testified.
Given the gravity of the alleged crimes, rigorous measures were required to ensure that witnesses were able to testify without fear of reprisal, and with the confidence to recount their traumatic experiences. In addition to the 547 who testified, the WVS dealt with over 100 witnesses who eventually did not testify, but who were provided with security and support.
Witnesses required protection and assistance prior to trial and during their testimony, and they continued to require protection and assistance after testimony in all cases had been concluded. WVS has responded to the individual needs of all the Court’s witnesses, providing protection and relevant support, counseling, and other appropriate assistance. This included medical assistance, physical and psychological rehabilitation, especially in cases of rape, sexual assault, and crimes against children. The provision of psychological support continued in the post-trial phase, especially the programmes for former child soldiers and victims of gender-based violence. These responsibilities were taken over by the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL).
Throughout its life, the Section regularly monitored witnesses in Sierra Leone and Liberia to assess the continuing issues confronting them. A final support and security assessment of each witness was carried out in 2013, and the complete records, including addresses and contact information, were made available to the RSCSL.
As the Court wound up its operations, increasing concerns both for security and support were brought forward by witnesses, who feared that the Court’s completion would leave its witnesses unprotected. A critical function of the RSCSL is to continue to protect the Court’s witnesses. All witnesses were individually informed of the arrangements that were put in place, including contacts of those who will continue to be responsible for their security and support.
The WVS made very satisfactory arrangements for the transition of witness responsibilities to the WVS of the RSCSL, much to the satisfaction of the witnesses
Finally, the establishment of the National Witness Protection Programme will provide an extra measure of protection to the Court’s witnesses, in addition to becoming an important aspect of the Court’s legacy for improving the system of administration of justice in Sierra Leone.