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The U. Marshals Service provides for the security, health and safety of government witnesses, and their immediate dependents, whose lives are in danger as a result of their testimony against drug traffickers, terrorists, organized crime members and other major criminals.

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Marshals have protected, relocated and given new identities to more than 8, witnesses and 9, of their family members, since the program began in Witnesses and their families typically get new identities with authentic documentation. Housing, subsistence for basic living expenses and medical care are provided to the witnesses. Job training and employment assistance may also be provided.

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Marshals provide hour protection to all witnesses, while they are in a high-threat environment including pretrial conferences, trial testimonials and other court appearances. No Witness Security Program participant, following program guidelines, has been harmed or killed while under the active protection of the U.


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Each country reviewed has established legislation and criteria for acceptance and retention of protected witnesses. The paper also reviews approaches to witness protection adopted in international fora, such as the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the Council of Europe. Each reviewed country has established special measures to assist vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Effective protection of witnesses, victims,and collaborators with justice includes legislative and practical measures to ensure that witnesses can testify freely and without intimidation: the criminalization of acts of intimidation, the use of alternative methods of providing evidence, physical protection, relocation programs prior to and during the criminal proceedings, permitting limitations on the disclosure of information concerning the identity or whereabouts, and in exceptional situations, protecting the anonymity of the individual giving evidence.

Witness protection program faces challenges

Its core feature is the secret and permanent relocation, often coupled with an identity change, offered to witnesses and their immediate families. Both of these countries operate similar federal programs, coexisting with those set up by individual provinces or states. In Europe, several countries, including the UK, have relied on the use of Crown witnesses to fight organized crime.

Specific concerns have been raised in Europe about the legitimacy of measures to assist witnesses in the context of the European Convention of Human Rights ECHR concerning the guarantee of a fair trial Article 6.

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UN conventions, the practice of international criminal tribunals, the Council of Europe recommendations and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights ECtHR are among other sources of inspiration for countries developing their own witness protection programs. For example, the UN Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime and against Corruption required Contracting Parties to take appropriate measures within their means to effectively protect witnesses in criminal proceedings who give information and testimony concerning offences covered by the Conventions.


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  • Each country reviewed considers alternate methods of protecting the witness without their admission to the witness protection program WPP. Although all witnesses should receive assistance and support, the WPPs are reserved for those important cases where the threat against the witness is so serious that protection and support cannot be ensured by other means Footnote 3.

    Witsec Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program [READ]

    Each country reviewed has measures to limit witnesses' exposure to the public or psychological stress and many countries have measures to reduce fear through avoidance of face-to-face confrontation with the defendant and measures to make it difficult or impossible for the defendant to trace the identity of the witness. The legislation also provides for the likelihood of witnesses being accompanied in court, and separate waiting rooms for witnesses. It also prevents disclosure, provides financial assistance and psychological support, and there is coordination among relevant government agencies.