Reporting Justice

White Paper: Feb. 2010

White Paper: Feb. 2010

Linked from this page is the 2010 initiative’s report, Preparing Journalists for New Realities: Global Curriculum Pilot on the Coverage of Justice Issues and Institutions, released in February 2010. The report was authored by Deborah Nelson – a professor, a lawyer, an author of a recent book about U.S. war crimes, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist.

The links below will take you directly to the three main sections of the report, on Africa, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia.





South Africa, Kenya, Uganda

Thirty African nations are parties to the International Criminal Court, more than any other continent, a fact that many interpreted as a sign of leaders’ commitment to staunching ethnic violence and delivering justice to its victims.

But early support for the ICC has wavered in the years since the court was created in 2002. The ICC has pursued four cases in that time, all involving African countries – and is on the verge of launching an investigation in a fifth, Kenya.

The focus on Africa has led some to accuse the ICC of an anti-African bias, and the issuance of an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan last spring brought tensions to a head. The African Union subsequently approved a resolution against cooperating in his arrest. Supporters of the resolution cited concern that the warrant would disrupt sensitive peace negotiations then underway. But leaders also gave voice to a companion concern that Africa was being singled out by the ICC.  The president of Gambia, an original signatory to the ICC, said it wasn’t acceptable to give a court in a “Western country” authority to indict an African leader. The president of Libya, which has not signed, assailed the ICC’s “warped justice.” A proposal to create an alternative hybrid court to handle the Darfur war crimes gained traction and then stalled when Sudanese officials said their constitution would not allow it.  The stakes in the course the controversy takes are high: More than 300,000 have died in the ongoing conflict between government forces and the Janjaweed militiamen. Millions have been forced to flee their homes.

For the media covering these developments, the task of sorting rhetoric from reality, fact from falsehood is daunting. Yet the need for unbiased, well-informed, independent press coverage could not be more critical.

There is a need to better prepare African journalists for covering sensitive, potentially explosive stories on international justice, according to African educators, practitioners and support organizations who were consulted about the New Realities project. Existing initiatives provide valuable training to professional journalists through workshops. This project proposes to open a new front in journalism schools, where an international curriculum will have an earlier influence and provide more in-depth instruction. The curriculum will be developed in collaboration with the schools and leading journalism organizations.

Eric Chinje, chairman of the African Media Initiative, whose goal is to strengthen an independent, pluralistic media, called the global curriculum project “exciting and critically important.”

Five major universities in three countries were selected for the pilot project.  They are Rhodes and Stellenbosch in South Africa, University of Nairobi and Daystar in Kenya, and Makerere in Uganda.  In addition to the African Media Initiative, early support has been offered by The Nation Media Group, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the International Federation of Journalists, Crimes of War Project and Internews.


World Report 2010, Human Rights Watch.
The African Union and the ICC, Crimes of War Project, July 10, 2009.
Nexis and Factiva compilations of articles and broadcast transcripts on Africa and the International Criminal Court.


Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo

Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic faced on trial in 2009 for the killing at least 7,000 Muslim men and boys in UN-designated safe area at Srebrenica during July 1995.  He was charged the same year with genocide and other war crimes but eluded capture until 2008. His trial will continue this year at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Another top leader, Ratko Mladic, also indicted for the massacre in 1995, remains at large. In the past year, two former high-ranking officials were convicted for crimes in Bosnia during the war, and five were convicted for atrocities in Kosovo. New indictments included 17 former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for war crimes in 1999 against Serbs, Roma and Albanians. The prosecutor also appealed the acquittal of the former prime minister of Kosovo, who resigned after his indictment by the ICTY in 2005.

The protracted campaign to bring the highest ranking perpetrators to justice has now entered its 15th year. The lengthy process has contributed to the news media’s and public’s ambivalence about war-crimes prosecutions.  Most of the coverage of the ICTY trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2006 came from international media rather than local outlets, said one media expert consulted for the New Realities report.

“They never followed the Milosevic trial here. People want to forget,” said another participant. “There is a disconnect that I attribute to PTSD – the issues are important to people but they don’t want to look at them.”

Independent news organizations do a better job of reporting on the issue, he said.  The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (better known as BIRN) is a leading example.  However the organization’s newsletter has more of an international than local following, he said.

Cases are tried at the ICTY at The Hague, in a regional international court, and in local courts. The most notorious cases are tried at the Hague, creating a geographic disconnect between victims and the wheels of justice.  The ICTY has tried to bridge this gap by maintaining an informative Website and making videos of the trials available online.

When the cases receive coverage, the stories often are inaccurate or biased or both, according to journalists, educators and representatives of journalism organizations. That Even with the best intentions, journalists must wrestle with the complicated history, rules and inter-relationships among the different judicial forums.

With ICTY proceedings now expected to extend into 2013, they will be inherited by a new generation of young journalists with dim memory of events, posing both a challenge and an opportunity for a related curriculum.


Southeast Asia

Indonesia and Timor-Leste

Indonesia’s oppressive occupation of Timor-Leste claimed more than 100,000 lives over 24 years, culminating in 1999 with a month of violence that left 1,200 dead after passage of a referendum supporting independence. A decade later, relatively few of those responsible have been punished, hundreds remain at large in Indonesia, and leaders of both countries are rejecting international pressure to prosecute.

After the 1999 violence, the U.N. rejected calls for an international tribunal in favor of a “serious crimes” process.  A serious crimes unit was created to investigate the 1999 violence and refer cases for trial in special courts in Timor-Leste. Indonesia was encouraged to prosecute people in its own courts. Neither initiative succeeded. Human-rights activists pressed for a broader inquiry, leading to creation of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor in 2001. After a four-year investigation, the commission produced a report with nearly 3,000 pages of evidence against Indonesian security forces and Timorese militias, accompanied by recommendations for prosecutions and reparations.  The two governments responded with a new commission charged with promoting “reconciliation and friendship.”  The new commission held more hearings that “were largely perceived as a platform for those accused of serious crimes to defend themselves without being seriously challenged,” according to a report issued by Amnesty International in July.  Even so, the second commission also recommended that perpetrators be brought to justice. Neither government has done so, and hundreds of suspects remain at large in Indonesia. In perhaps the starkest example of impunity, General Wiranto, the commander of Indonesia’s armed forces in 1999, ran for vice president last summer. Wiranto is wanted for a 2003 indictment by the U.N. serious crimes unit in Timor-Leste for hundreds of murders.

The Amnesty International report summarized the current situation: “Today, despite various national and internationally-sponsored justice initiatives over the last decade, most of those who were suspected of committing the 1999 crimes are still at large in Indonesia, and are yet to be brought before an independent court.  Of those who have been prosecuted in Indonesia, all have been acquitted in proceedings which have been severely criticized as fundamentally flawed.  Only one remains imprisoned in Timor-Leste.”

(Since then, the prime minister of Timor-Leste released the remaining prisoner, an Indonesian militiamen accused of massacring women, children and priests in a church in 1999.)

Two more waves of extreme violence have swept Timor-Leste in recent years. Amnesty International conducted interviews in Timor-Leste and found widespread concern over the “cycle of impunity” that has developed out of the country’s failure to address the 1999 crimes or to build an effective system of justice.  The report urged the U.N. Security Council to set up an international criminal tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity. The Security Council has not done so. The leaders of the two countries have re-iterated their belief that they should seek reconciliation rather than punishment.

The news media’s role in keeping the public informed and holding the government accountable during this crucial period has been compromised by a lack of independence, inadequate journalism training, poor understanding of international law and, in Timor-Leste by language differences, according to journalists, educators and media specialists consulted for the New Realities report.

Timor-Leste’s Truth Commission received widespread media attention there and in Indonesia, one respondent said. “Unfortunately, most of the media…was dominated by the official statements of the government and state leaders,” he said.  Another cited an “inaccurate understanding of international law, especially international criminal court.”

Another noted that in Timor-Leste, few journalists have formal training and many speak only Tetum, not Portugese, which is the language used in the tribunal.

“There are issues on human rights abuses, corruption and justice that need to be raised, but…we lack capacity and the language skills.”

Gaining acceptance and approval of a course on international justice at universities in Indonesia and Timor-Leste could be challenging, given the political environment.  It will require collaboration with international journalism organizations with a presence in the countries and indigenous groups. P3Media in Jakarta, Timor Lorosa’e Journalists’ Association and the Timor-Leste Center for Investigative Journalists, and the Indonesian Association of Journalism Education have been involved in this process as has the International Center for Journalists, as noted below.

In offering his support, Virgilio da Silva Guterres, president of Timor Lorosa’e Journalists’ Assn., cited “the urgency and importance of the subject related to international justice and journalism toward the development of democracy and creation of a just and peaceful world.”

Sources are available under