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Legal

Robertson: ICC trial of Kenyan leaders is a tribute to international justice

As the trial of Kenya's political leaders resumed in the Hague, the first witness has now testified. The woman's identity is protected and her face and voice were disguised as she addressed the court.

The first witness to testify at the International Criminal Court trial of Kenya's deputy president William Ruto described how a mob of youths torched a church where 2,000 people had sought refuge from the 2007 post-election violence. The woman's identity was kept secret, her face and voice distorted, under an order of the presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji.

For an insight into what effect witness protection can have on the trial and how significant the trial is for international justice, DW spoke to barrister Geoffrey Robertson.

DW: How easy is it to keep the identity of the witnesses secret in this era of advanced technology?

Geoffrey Robertson: Techniques for keeping witnesses anonymous where it's really essential to do so, are quite well advanced.

Geoffrey Robertsonin legal attire. Universal Pictorial Press Photo CGL 259266 02.04.1988

Geoffrey Robertson QC is a renowned human rights lawyer and author of several books

The problem always is, when you're cross-examining an anonymous witness, you can't tell what biases he or she may have. And what other commitments they may have that might tend to make them give false evidence. So it is not a very satisfactory system.

And I would have to say that the climate of intimidation of witnesses in this trial, particularly the Kenyan witnesses, has been unprecedented and is very concerning. Of course it happens in national courts as well as international courts. But in a case of this importance, it has been most regrettable.

Based on this first testimony, how hard will it be for the prosecution to get the evidence it needs for the judges to rule in its favor, especially since other witnesses have withdrawn from the case?

I think that's a matter for the court. It is a significant achievement, I think, for the court and prosecution to put in the dock the people who are exercising power in the country. In Kenya we have got the vice president being tried now and in a couple of months we will have the president. I think that is a great tribute to international justice, which is only recent. It happened in Nuremberg and then it went to sleep for about 50 years and then it started again for the Balkans and went on to Rwanda and my court in Sierra Leone.

I think the Kenyan proceedings are significant for that reason. But we now have to look closely and see whether the fact that these people in the dock are wielding power has significantly deterred witnesses from coming forward.

There have been claims of money exchanging hands on both sides, either to encourage witnesses to testify or to persuade them not to appear in court . What do you make of this?

They are very serious allegations and it will be up to the council on either side to expose that. If it has happened, there is a right to cross-examine and if there is any evidence of witness bribery, then hopefully it will be brought out.

How could the decision by Kenya's parliament to withdraw membership of the ICC affect the outcome of this case?

Not at all. I think the decision by Kenya's parliament was a stupid and rushed and obviously biased decision. Over a thousand innocent people were hacked to death. In Kenya you can't try this - because you can just imagine if there is witness intimidation in The Hague, there would have been massive witness intimidation and judge and jury intimidation in Kenya itself.

There was widespread agreement that the International Criminal Court should take it over and now suddenly these wretched politicians, some of whom are implicated in the violence, are getting cold feet and threatening to withdraw from this great international court. I think people will see that for what it is - a very self-interested action which is not in the interest of Kenya or its people.

Geoffrey Robertson sat as an appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone from 2002 to 2007 and is currently defending Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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