Omar plays down threats to ICC witnesses

September 23, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 23 – The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) on Wednesday accused some Non-Governmental Organisations of misleading the world that International Criminal Court (ICC) witnesses in Kenya were under threat.

KNCHR Commissioner Hassan Omar told Capital News that the ICC guards its own witnesses and did not rely on outsiders to provide security to those under it protection programme.

"The real concern we would have as a commission is the very casual nature in which we have continued to discuss the issues of witness protection. There is need to exercise a lot of diligence when we are dealing with matters of witnesses. I do know certain situations witnesses make up," he said.

He was responding to media reports that a witness expected to testify before the ICC was abducted and tortured in Eldoret.

Mr Omar said organisations and individuals should be careful when referring to ICC witnesses since The Hague court fully takes responsibility of its witnesses.

He said the court would not risk or expose the lives of its witnesses including their associates, family and friends.

He said the court had a comprehensive and strict protection programme that did not have the loopholes reported by some human rights organisations.

"Anybody who is under the ICC protection wing cannot be under any serious jeopardy, the ICC protection procedure is quite water tight and anybody who has been taken up as a potential witness is protected to the fullest," he said.

He believed that the alleged threats were not to ICC witnesses.

The commissioner begged local organisations, the media and the entire country to refrain from mishandling the witness protection matters to avoid creating unnecessary fear among real potential witnesses.

Mr Omar however urged the government to provide security and offer protection to other witnesses and victims in the country.

"Primary responsibility in terms of witness protection is the government.  When you see there is intimidation of witnesses it is because the government is not putting the right procedures for witness support," he said.

According to the ICC Protection Program, the court takes responsibility of protecting only its witnesses.

When ICC Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo visited Kenya in May this year, he assured his witnesses of protection but asked the government to protect witnesses of the Waki commission and victims of the post election violence.

He clarified that the court would protect only its potential witnesses.

He said that the Kenyan government had assured him that it would protect victims and witnesses of the 2007/2008 post election violence.

"I raised the issue in my meeting with the Ministers.  That was my main topic and they recognised they have to agree with the police because some of the victims were injured by the police," he said at the time.


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