South Asia: The importance of witness protection in criminal proceedings

Witness protection is an important mechanism in criminal justice proceedings that can help States to bring criminals to justice, especially in cases of organized crime and terrorism. 

In order to strengthen their capacity to more effectively prosecute the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, many countries have established and use witness protection measures in order to ensure that critical testimony is available as part of related criminal proceedings.  Witness protection covers a range of possible measures, including the concealment of a witnesses' identity or those of his/her family, the use of video-conferencing during the trial, anonymous testimony, physical protection and others.  Where necessary, full-fledged witness protection programmes may also include the physical relocation of a witness, the change of their identity as well as their socio- economic reintegration into a new life.

On 7 and 8 October 2013, in Kathmandu, Nepal, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through its Terrorism Prevention Branch and its Regional Office for South Asia, held, in cooperation with the Counter - Terrorism Committee's Executive Directorate (CTED), a Regional Workshop on "Strengthening Criminal Justice Responses for the Protection and Support of Witnesses and Victims in Criminal proceedings related to Terrorism".   Eight SAARC countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan participated in the workshop with delegates from the police, prosecution and justice sectors.

During the two days, workshop participants provided an overview of how each country is dealing with terrorism, organized crime and witness protection in their national legal and institutional systems.  Experts from Austria and Indonesia explained the nature, scope, success, and challenges of their national witness protection programmes.  UNODC and CTED provided information on their on-going work related to the implementation of various Conventions and Security Council Resolutions relevant to countering and prosecuting acts of terrorism.

During the workshop, the role of victims in criminal proceedings, as well as their need for support and protection emerged as an important, but often neglected aspect that needs increased attention.  Although some countries have established measures that recognize and support the role of victims in criminal proceedings, and to provide them with adequate compensation, such recognition and support through specific legislation and policies is still absent in many countries.  Accordingly, UNODC and CTED are now including the protection and support of witnesses and victims as part of their ongoing work with SAARC countries in South Asia interested in strengthening their national capacity to successfully prosecute the perpetrators of terrorist attacks.

The workshop was possible thanks to the financial support from the Government of the United States of America.

Click here to read: Good Practices for the protection of witnesses in criminal proceedings involving organized crime

Click here to read: The Criminal Justice Response to Support Victims of Acts of Terrorism