Legacy website of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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Echoes of Testimonies: a Unique Research Project

The Pilot Study

This Pilot Study “Echoes of Testimonies” examined the long-term impact of testifying on witnesses, and provided valuable insight into the legacy of the  most critical stakeholders of the Tribunal — those who bear witness.

Witnesses are vital to international criminal justice, and the United Nations Security Council recognized the need to support victims and witnesses throughout the court process by establishing the Victims and Witnesses Section (VWS) at the same time it established the Tribunal.

The VWS has been a pioneer in conceptualizing and providing the framework and services necessary to support all witnesses called to testify in the criminal trials before the Tribunal. Through an integrated model of services, the VWS addressed multi-dimensional needs of witnesses before, during, and after testifying. Since 1995 to 2017, the VWS has assisted close to 5,000 witnesses giving testimony and observed that the process of testifying can be a challenging experience.

Witnesses frequently are asked to recall traumatic events, the loss of loved ones, their country at war, and all in the context of a foreign court far from home.  As the Tribunal was reaching its end and heading into its legacy stage, it was critical to ask witnesses in the post-testimony phase what it meant to testify and what impact the testimony has had on their lives.

To better understand the experiences of witnesses in providing testimony, in 2012 the VWS and the Castleberry Peace Institute at the University of North Texas (UNT) launched a Pilot Study to evaluate key areas of the witness experience, including: witness’ background and reasons for testifying; socio-economic impact of testifying; security concerns; physical and psychological health and well-being; and perceptions about justice and the Tribunal.

The Pilot Study is groundbreaking in several respects. To date, no study of this scale has ever utilised a systematic and scientific sampling process of such a large population or included witnesses called by all parties to cases (Prosecution and Defence, as well as Chambers) in order to examine the impact of testifying. Over a two-year period trained and experienced VWS staff members interviewed 300 fact witnesses living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia.

The involvement of the VWS allowed the inclusion in the study of witnesses who would otherwise be excluded (such as witnesses with in-court protective measures), while the UNT as an external research partner ensured the reliability and validity of the research process including independent data analysis.

The study aimed to:

  • Provide a comprehensive analysis of the effects on witnesses that result from having participated in criminal proceedings before the ICTY;
  • Assess witnesses’ needs and provide an opportunity for closure to participants;
  • Contribute to the legacy of the ICTY by providing useful information and guidelines for future witness support structures.

Project’s development

In 2012 the VWS and the UNT jointly developed the research design and created a questionnaire of multiple‑choice and open‑ended questions to be used during in-person interviews with witnesses. In 2013 the VWS provided the UNT with an anonymous list of witnesses that was used to create a sample of eligible participants via a stratified and quota-selection process. To preserve confidentiality, only VWS staff directly contacted witnesses to inquire about their willingness to participate.  

Following the completion of interviews, the VWS organized the transcription and translation of the interviews into English and prepared all data for transfer to the UNT for further analysis and statistical processing. Through the specific role of the VWS, as the custodian of confidential witness data, when processing the data, anonymity was guaranteed in all phases of the project. Also, some witnesses received additional support services in the aftermath of the interview.

“Echoes of Testimonies” was officially launched in The Hague on 9 June 2016 before practitioners, members of the diplomatic community, and other stakeholders. Later in June 2016 the Pilot Study team travelled to the region of former Yugoslavia to present the results of the study in Sarajevo, Belgrade, Pristina and Zagreb.  The full report is available in English, BCS and Albanian.

Availability of research data

In July 2018 the research team made the anonymized dataset collected during the Pilot Study available to the public to promote scientific integrity, increase recognition and encourage further research and development in the area of witness support. The coded data from the three open-ended audiotaped questions are planned to be available mid-2019.


As a result of the Pilot Study, the VWS and the UNT made the following recommendations to ameliorate the process of testifying for witnesses:

  • Develop witness support structures early on within the judicial institutions
  • Implement standard post-testimony and follow-up programs for witnesses
  • Establish and develop strong relationships with the communities where witnesses reside
  • Employ gender-sensitive approaches in witness support structures
  • Provide regular updates to witnesses on important trial developments
  • Raise awareness about available trauma treatments and related psychological benefits
  • Determine measures to assist witnesses in exercising their right to reparations
  • Disseminate information about the process of testifying to potential witnesses

The way forward

The vast majority of witnesses supported the Pilot Study project and its goals. They especially welcomed the renewed opportunity for contact and confirmed the need for follow-up.

Further studies of witnesses could provide even greater insight into the witness experience and should include:

a) ICTY witnesses who testified in the Hadžić, Karadžić, Mladić, and Šešelj trials,

b) ICTY witnesses who reside outside the former Yugoslavia,

c) an examination of the impact of testifying in sexual violence trials on both women and men,

d) more in-depth evaluation of testimony fatigue and witness resilience.

The further expansion of the research, however, will depend on additional external funding and ability of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals ("Mechanism") to support research activities.

If you have been an ICTY witness or you would like more information about the Pilot Study, please contact the Witness Support and Protection Unit (WISP), The Hague Branch  of the Mechanism.

WISP office in The Hague

Tel:  +31 70 5128877

Email: wisphagueinfo @ un.org

WISP Field office in Sarajevo:
Tel: +387 33 568 560 or +387 33 568 562