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The value of oral testimony in the face of changing memories: when is an account (un)reliable and/or a witness (not-)credible?

Oral testimony tends to be considered very useful when a person who was directly involved in an event explains exactly what happened. At the same time, any inconsistency in the testimomy may lead to the account being dismissed as unreliable. However, it may also be reasoned that, even though some errors may well infiltrate themselves in a given account due to the faillibility of human memory, the more striking elements of an experience are unlikely to be remembered mistakenly and should therefore be taken to be true. For example, in Valentina Rosendo Cantú v. Mexico, the Inter-American Court accepted an account which had been given with some changes over time. Most courts would not do this. The value of oral testimony is therefore a minefield that different courts navigate differently. This project will explore how the European and Inter-American courts of human rights have approached oral testimonies that change over time, as well as assess, by reference to the scientific understanding of memory and other processes, whether some judicial approaches seem more valid than others.


This is the selection process of prof. Marie-Bénédicte Dembour:

Places will be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis.

Students interested in a particular topic are welcomed to contact Prof Dembour by email (mariebene.dembour[@]

  • English


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