Why Testify? Witnesses’ Motivations for Giving Evidence in a War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone


Stepakoff, Shanee, G. Shawn Reynolds, Simon Charters, and Nicola Henry. 2014. “Why Testify? Witnesses’ Motivations for Giving Evidence in a War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 8 (3): 426–51. doi:10.1093/ijtj/iju019.

Authors: Shanee Stepakoff, G. Shawn Reynolds, Simon Charters, Nicola Henry


Although witnesses are indispensable to the operation and success of war crimes courts, little is known about their motivations for agreeing to testify. This article advances existing knowledge by drawing on findings from interviews conducted with 200 witnesses after they gave evidence in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Participants were asked to describe their reasons for testifying. Content analysis was used to examine the variety and frequency of responses. Overall, 18 conceptually distinct motivations were mentioned, with most witnesses reporting multiple motivations. The response given most frequently was ‘to denounce wrongs committed against me during the war,’ followed by ‘to contribute to public knowledge about the war.’ Desires for retributive justice (e.g., accountability, punishment), and to fulfill a moral duty to other victims, were each mentioned by approximately one in four witnesses. Other key motivations included establishing the truth and narrating their stories. Motivations differed by gender, age, victimization status, side (prosecution versus defense) and trial. The results support the idea that witnesses value the opportunity to publicly denounce atrocities committed against themselves and others. The findings point to both congruities and incongruities between the aims of witnesses and the goals of war crimes courts. Further, the findings suggest that there may be two broad, overarching aspects of the decision to testify: those that are primarily geared toward helping oneself and those that are primarily geared toward helping others. Pragmatically, the findings can enhance efforts to support witnesses in preparing for and completing their testimonies.

Keywords: prosecutions, Special Court for Sierra Leone, witnesses, theories of testimony

Topics: Gender, Women, Men, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2014

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.