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Expert witness in international war crimes tribunals

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The author has served as an expert witness in eight different cases tried before war crimes tribunals, involving twelve accused. Only three of the twelve accused were convicted. Seven were acquitted and two cases are still pending. The general defense strategy in such cases is to admit the crimes, but to challenge the involvement or responsibility of the accused. Identity then becomes the main issue to be proven by the prosecution. From the verdicts it appears that problems of identification were a major reason for acquittal. A closer look at the cases demonstrates that these problems were entirely due to an astounding naivety of the various prosecutors with respect to identification issues. The identification procedures used by the investigators were violating even the basic principles developed in many years of research in the area of psychology and law. This is even more shocking when it is realized how important these trials are, not only for the accused, but also for the witnesses, the victims, their relatives, their communities, and for international justice. Since 1987 I have been asked eight times to testify in war crimes trials. The venues were, in chronological order: The Special Court in Jerusalem for the trial of suspects accused of crimes in the Second World War - the case against John Demjanjuk. The Special Dutch Court for the trial of suspects accused of crimes against humanity in the Second World War - the case against Marinus De Rijke. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY); five cases: against Dusko Tadic (IT-94-1), Vlatko Kupreskic (IT-95-16), Fatmir Limaj et al. (IT-03-66-T), Ramush Haradinaj et al. (IT-04-84), and Ljubisa Beara (IT-05-88-T). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) - the case against Jerome-Clement Bicamumpaka (ICTR 99-5-T). In this paper I will describe some of my experiences, and try to formulate some lessons that I have learned.

Keywords: crime; face identification; face recognition; identification; identification accuracy

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-09-01

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