Agency to be established to protect crime witnesses, victims
Six southeast Asian countries have agreed to establish a technical agency in the region to strengthen cooperation among national agencies in protecting witnesses and victims of transnational crime.
The agreement was made by the six countries — Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Papua New Guinea, during a meeting on strengthening regional cooperation on witness and victim protection in Kuta that concluded on Wednesday.
Abdul Haris Semendawai, chairman of Indonesia’s Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) who chaired the meeting, said the technical regional agency or organization would facilitate the sharing and exchanging of information and knowledge, as well as seek technical assistance and training for national agencies on witness and victim protection.
“We have just started building a regional network to cooperate on this issue by issuing a joint statement, which — among others — recommends the establishment of a technical regional organization to strengthen the cooperation,” he said after the meeting.
Further plans on the establishment of the agency would be discussed in the next meeting, which as yet has not been scheduled.
In the joint statement, the countries also shared similar views about the urgency to revise and adopt national measures and mechanisms for the effective protection of witnesses and victims of transnational organized crime from potential retaliation or intimidation.
They also affirmed the necessity to adopt measures to establish physical protection for witnesses, including relocation and non-disclosure or limitation on the disclosure of information about their identity and whereabouts, as well as provide evidentiary rules to permit witness testimony to be given in a way that ensures the safety of witnesses.
Abdul said the countries also stated the importance of establishing procedures to provide access to compensation and restitution for victims of crime and providing physical, medical, psychological and social recovery for witnesses and victims.
“The countries are all aware that the rights of these victims and witnesses have not been adequately recognized, and are aware that victims and witnesses and others who aid them are unjustly subjected to threats, harassment, loss, damage, injury and that they may suffer hardship when assisting in the prosecution of offenders,” he said.
This meeting is a follow up from a last year’s international meeting in Nusa Dua, in which countries agreed to establish regional networks to identify possible areas of collaboration to promote international cooperation on witness and victim protection.
In the meeting, delegates from every country reported on their measures and achievements in providing protection for witnesses and victims of crime.
Cambodia delegate, Pol. Brig. Gen. Say Mengcheang said his government had already established working groups, among which cater to victim protection. The country also has a three-year national plan of action in place on
Delegate from Malaysia, asst. commissioner of police Arshad bin Abdul Jalil presented the Witness Protection Program in Malaysia through the enactment of the Witness Protection Act 2009. The country has also established a bilateral agreement with several countries on the issue and participated in the Europol network.
Delegate from the Philippines, attorney Martin T. Menez, the program director of the witness protection program at the Department of Justice, elaborated on the country’s witness protection legislation that provides rewards and incentives for state witnesses and informants.
Thailand delegates, Thanakorn Stananoda and Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom from the Department of Rights and Liberty Protection, explained that the country had implemented two separate laws on victim and witness protection, as well as establishing a witness protection office and enacting a state compensation act providing remedial action for victims through a justice fund for certain types of crime.
The meeting also took note of various lessons learned and best practices from each country, including the importance of civil society involvement in the protection of witnesses and victims. They also learned that effective protection of witnesses and victims leads to higher conviction rates.