Weil wins battle for war crime witnesses’ anonymity

New York-based firm Weil Gotshal & Manges has submitted a successful amicus curiae brief defending the safety of war crime witnesses and their families.

Drafted on behalf of pro bono client Human Rights Watch, the brief sought to protect the right of a human rights observer not to reveal their sources for fear of reprisals against those sources or their families.

The brief was submitted in December 2005 in an ongoing trial of three soldiers of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council for war crimes. The matter began last year and is being heard in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Following submission of the brief, the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court reversed an earlier decision of the Trial Chamber and adopted the position advocated by Human Rights Watch and Weil.

Justice Geoffrey Robertson QC ruled in Weil’s favour, concluding that, in appropriate circumstances, human rights monitors have a privilege to refuse to name their sources when giving evidence.

The successful brief was drafted in Weil Gotshal’s London office, but was the product of a joint initiative with the firm’s New York office and Sara Darehshori and Elise Kepler in the International Justice Programme of Human Rights Watch.

Weil’s London team was led by restructuring partner Dominic McCahill and Michael Jones, head of the firm’s London global dispute resolution group and chair of the London Pro Bono Committee.

Jones said Weil took on the brief after Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, had contacted Weil’s office there.

The London team oversaw the international and European aspects of the brief, while the New York team, led by business and securities litigation partner Rick Levine, assisted with US precedents concerning the rights of journalists and informants.

Jones said: “The right of human rights experts to protect their sources is an important point in trials of this kind. Very often the groups that committed the crimes are still out there and repercussions could be taken against informants or potential witnesses.

“Human Rights Watch has very highly trained observers in the field, and it’s vitally important for the world outside to know about arenas such as Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and what exactly was going on. If investigators are inhibited, then the world will never know.”