The media in the face of international criminal justice

Abdul Malik Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 November 2019:

The media (print, broadcasting TV and radio), always the channels for mass communication have been at the heart of International Criminal Justice. Meanwhile, the right to freedom of expression under customary international laws is provided for and protected by numerous international and regional instruments. The basis of this clearly showcases the media’s right to know and its responsibilities towards upholding the sanctity of peace and tranquility in society.

In International Criminal Justice, one of the most important shifts in its paradigm is that journalists, who had previously served as witnesses and had given testimonies of serious violations of International Criminal Laws, are now themselves indicted, prosecuted, and convicted by either Ad-hoc tribunals as well as the International Criminal Courts (ICC).

In the book MEDIA AND THE RWANDA GENOCIDE OF 1994 edited by Professor Allan Thompson, the Media, he says, were used in Rwanda to spread hatred, to dehumanize people, and even to guide the genocidaires toward their victims. Three journalists, Hassan Ngeze of Kangura Newspaper; and Ferdinand Naihmana and Jean Bosco Barayagwisa of RTLM Radio have all been found guilty of genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

The media trial at the ICTR was preceded by the trial of another journalist at the Nuremburg Military Tribunal of 1945. Julius Streicher, was the publisher of Der Stürmer, an anti-Semitic weekly newspaper, from 1923 to 1945, and was its editor until 1933. He was convicted by the Tribunal for violation of Crimes against Humanity.

However, despite the failure of many other journalists to uphold peace and tranquility and to report on a fair basis on violations of International Criminal Laws, one must not forget the masterpiece investigations done by journalists like Martha Gellhorn who investigated crimes against humanity committed at the Nazist controlled Concentration camp in Dachau; Wilfred Buchette, who was the first Westerner to enter Hiroshima after what he referred to as the “Atomic Plague”; James Cameron on the incendiary bombing in Vietnam; Seymour Hersh on the massacre at My Lai; Linda Melvern and Mark Doyle on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide; and most importantly the recommendations made by Marko Clarine who was the first person to call for the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)- I mean the very first since the end of the Nuremburg and the Tokyo trials of 1945.

Yes! It was a journalist who called for the first post-World War 2 tribunal to trial Serbian leaders for crimes committed against ethnic Bosnian in the Former Yugoslavia. That tribunal became the basis for which we then saw the establishment of the ICTR, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Tribunal for Cambodia and most recently now the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Meanwhile, all the above mentioned tribunals with exception to the ICC are Ad Hoc trials established to bring justice to victims of International Crimes. All of them are no longer in existence with exception to the ICC. Specifically, the ICC’s Rome Statute is now the only codified and universally applicable law for the protection of International Criminal Laws in the world. Article 1 of the Rome Statute of the ICC establishes the court. It says:

“An International Criminal Court (‘the Court’) is hereby established. It shall be a permanent institution and shall have the power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute, and shall be complementary to national criminal jurisdictions. The jurisdiction and functioning of the Court shall be governed by the provisions of this Statute.”

The specific compositions of international crimes are detailed in Article 5 (1) of the Rome Statute. It reads: “The jurisdiction of the Court shall be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. The Court has jurisdiction in accordance with this Statute with respect to the following crimes: (a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

In addition, Article 13 detailed the Exercise of jurisdiction of the court. It says:

The Court may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to a crime referred to in article 5 in accordance with the provisions of this Statute if: (a) A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by a State Party in accordance with article 14;

(b) A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations; or

(c) The Prosecutor has initiated an investigation in respect of such a crime in accordance with article 15.

But now, one question that will always come in mind is how can the media assist the ICC achieve their goals for the protection and prevention of the violation of International Crimes detailed in Article 5 mentioned above?

Sadly, I must clearly state that one of the contributing factors that have greatly affected media reporting of the violations of International Criminal Laws and the trials of the ICC is born from the Galtung and Ruge CULTURAL DETERMINISM AND GEOGRAPHICAL PROXIMITY NEWS SELECTION MODEL. In this regard, Galtung and Ruge model of reporting emphasizes that journalists and media outlets choose to report on issues that resonate with their culture and those that are closer to their outlets.

This means events happening at the ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands can more attract the European press than the African press because of the concept of geographical proximity.

On the other hand, the concept of Cultural Determinism says that what a media outlet puts out is that which resonates with its editorial policy born from its culture. We all saw when in April 1994 thousands of Western journalists chose to report on the Nelson Mandela Election instead of the apocalyptic and internecine carnage in Rwanda. This is basically because elections in South Africa perfectly resonated with the Western concept of democratization in Africa. Whilst the Western media abandoned Rwanda for election in South Africa, the local media which were headed by Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Naihmana and Jean Bosco Barayagwisa fuelled the killings based on their culture of Hutu superiority against the minority Tutsis.

However, I am of the firm belief that as journalists we need to prioritise the Canadian born doctrine of RESPONSIBILITY TO REPORT. Professor Allan Thompson in his NEW JOURNALISTIC PARADIGM – A RESPONSIBILITY TO REPORT added that the Canadian-inspired doctrine was formally adopted by the United Nations in September 2005.

The doctrine, he says, was set out in the December 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. It overturns the notion of absolute national sovereignty when it comes to massive violations of human rights and genocide, marking the first time that state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs have been qualified.

In effect, the UN declaration enshrines in international law the notion that the world community has a right to intervene – a responsibility to protect – to stop a government from massive violation of the human rights of its citizens.

Therefore, I believe that if the media reports on violations of International Criminal Laws without biases- that could prompt authorities to take appropriate actions in addressing that impunity.

Hence, with this I will conclude that in line with international standards, the media must never sit and watch the human race plunged into barbarity. We have failed in Rwanda. We have failed to report on serious breach of peace. Hence we must now prioritise the reporting on violation of International Criminal Laws to get the world’s community of nations act swiftly in addressing them.

This, I believe should be the bastion of the role of the Media in International Criminal Law.

About the author

Abdul Malik Bangura is the Publishing and Managing Editor of De Mirror Newspaper based in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Tel: +23277227804/ +23276792805

1 Comment

  1. This article should act as a clear warning to some APC propaganda newspapers. The frustration of losing an election doesn’t warrant some of the hateful articles that they are publishing, but for them it doesn’t matter. What is important to them at the moment is to practice the Scorched Earth Policy. Let’s continue to pray for Mama Salone.

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