[Laura Salvadego is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Law, University of Ferrara. This work has been developed during a research stay at the New York University School of Law – Center for Research in Crime and Justice, funded by Unicredit bank and by 5 per thousand contributions given to the University of Ferrara in 2010]
The need to ensure appropriate protection of witnesses plays a crucial role in the fight against transnational organized crime both at the universal level and in the European context. Rules concerning cooperation among states in this context suggest the existence of a joint obligation to protect witnesses that is functional to punishment of the authors, which in turn is perceived as a goal of the international society as a whole. Indeed, criminal networks of organized crime originate a threat to the entire international society (cf. Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, at 2), particularly because of their transnational ramifications. The global nature of threat requires that states’ efforts are integrated in a common and coordinated repressive project of multilateral nature (Kramer, at 4).
The idea that witnesses in criminal trials enjoy specific rights has gradually gained acceptance in international law (Fenwick, at 318), leading to the explicit acknowledgement of a positive obligation for states to adopt specific legislative and operative measures to assure witnesses’ self-determination and safety (Cf. Council of Europe, Rec. No. R (97) 13; Council of the European Union, Res. No. 95/C 327/04 and, among others, Ecthr, Artico v. Italy, para. 33 ff.).
It is actually possible to construe an overall, coherent “statute” for witnesses under international law, drawing from the various rules set by a number of different instruments dealing with the matter. Thus, for example, the 2000 United Nations Convention on transnational organized crime and its Protocols, set forth innovative rules concerning measures to be adopted by Parties to provide for protection and assistance of witnesses subject to reprisals and intimidation (Article 24).
The extent of the required protection and the resulting burdensome obligations for states are justified by the particular vulnerability of this category of persons, whose protection from the trial is functional to the fight against transnational organized crime. In fact, adequate repression of criminal offences would be widely thwarted if the high risk of negative consequences for witnesses’ health and safety could influence their deposition in the trial and, as a consequence, the outcome of the criminal proceedings. Witnesses’ fact-finding contribution is essential to contrast transnational criminal networks; however their fruitful participation is extremely difficult to obtain without appropriate mechanisms to neutralize dynamics of intimidation largely widespread in this context.
Imposing to adopt “appropriate measures within its means” for the purpose of granting witness’ protection, the Palermo Convention sets up a particular due diligence obligation (see Pisillo Mazzeschi, “Due diligence” e responsabilità internazionale degli Stati, 1989) that is not easy to appreciate. In fact, no specific and analytical indication is given concerning the so called…