ASIA: Council urged to address the lack of effective domestic witness protection systems in Asia

Date: September 16, 2010
Document id: ALRC-COS-15-15-2010
Speaker: Norman Voss
HRC section: Item 2 & 3: General Debate

An Oral Statement to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organization with general consultative status

ASIA: Council urged to address the lack of effective domestic witness protection systems in Asia

Thank you, Mr. President,

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) welcomes the report by the High Commissioner on the right to truth and witness protection. The ALRC supports its call for States to develop independent domestic witness protection systems and the suggested development of best practices and common standards by the Council. The absence or failures of such systems are serious barriers to justice, as detailed in written statements on Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines submitted to this session.

Sri Lanka has no witness protection law or programme. Despite rulings by the Human Rights Committee, witnesses remain at serious risk. Torture victim Gerald Perera, who led a landmark legal reparation case, was killed in November 2004, just days before he was to testify against the police. Witnesses to his assassination have since received death threats.

Similarly, the absence of a comprehensive witness protection mechanism in Nepal contributes significantly to impunity. Witness protection legislation remains stalled, resulting in the right to truth and justice being denied concerning hundreds of forced disappearances, while other grave abuses are ongoing.

In the Philippines, a key witness concerning the high-profile Maguindanao massacre was killed on June 14, 2010. Despite pledges made during the UPR and repeated recommendations by Special Procedures, the government has failed to reform the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act to provide a trustworthy, well-resourced, and independent protection mechanism. Officials instead simply blame frightened witnesses for the lack of credible investigations and prosecutions of hundreds of extra-judicial killings by the State.

In Indonesia, the Witness and Victim Protection Agency has so far lacked independence and resources, and has been unable to act effectively to provide applicant witnesses and human rights defenders with protection from attacks.

Given this, the ALRC strongly urges the Council to develop and ensure the implementation of a normative framework to address the need for witness protection. Particular attention must be given to grave, endemic human rights violations by State agents, such as torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, in countries with failing justice delivery systems, if these efforts are to be relevant and of practical use.

Thank you.

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About ALRC

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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