Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals (part 1)

Seyi Rhodes Journalists Event

Seyi Rhodes recalls giving evidence at the Gbagbo trial before the International Criminal Court.

LONDON – Can journalists give evidence at international criminal trials without compromising their objectivity? What is the probative value of journalistic evidence? What does it feel like to be cross-examined by Slobodan Milošević?

These were some of the questions discussed at the event Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals hosted on 25 October at London’s Frontline Club. The fourth of a series of events on “Ethics and the News”, the panel discussion was organised by the Ethical Journalism Network and Global Rights Compliance, and chaired by Channel 4 Head of News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne.

The toll it takes to testify

The event started with the screening of a short, harrowing extract of the 1992 documentary Omarska’s Survivors: Bosnia 1992.

As the lights come back on, we hear from the first panelist, former Guardian and Observer reporter Ed Vulliamy. He is familiar with those images – in fact, he was there when they were filmed, as he and British journalist Penny Marshall managed to gain access to the infamous Omarska concentration camp and exposed the dire conditions of living for prisoners there.

A certain weariness shows on the face of Vulliamy, who explains that they reported the atrocities in Bosnia for “three effing years” before things started to change. Vulliamy bore witness to many human rights violations on the ground, and later repeated that exercise in a different, more judicial setting years later, as he became the first journalist since the Nuremberg trials to testify at an international war crimes tribunal. In total, he testified in ten trials for the prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”), including those of Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadžić and General Ratko Mladić.

Would I do it all again?“, Vulliamy wonders out loud. He seems ambivalent. He stresses the difference between objectivity and neutrality; journalists have a duty to be objective, he notes, but as human beings they also cannot stay neutral in the face of horrors and wrongdoing. His answers, however also reveal the personal and mental toll it takes to re-live those experiences in front of a tribunal.

That personal toll is something that two other journalists present that night are all too familiar with.

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Go On! Advocacy and Litigation Training Course, Leiden University, The Hague

The Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies (Leiden University) welcomes registrations for its Advocacy and Litigation training course, which will be held in The Hague from 24 November to 28 November 2014. The training is open to law students and professionals who consider a career in international criminal litigation or who simply wish to develop or improve their advocacy skills. Participants will be trained in case theory, opening statements, direct examination (examination-in-chief), cross-examination, re-examination, closing statements and legal submissions skills through role play and challenging exercises. The course will be concluded with a mock trial at the end of the week.

The training will be given by Zafar Ali QC, a highly experienced defence lawyer who is on the list of Defence Counsel at the International Criminal Court. He has also been selected as Lead Defence Counsel at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague.  Zafar Ali will be assisted by Nathan Rasiah, who has worked on a number of high profile cases involving military and political leaders charged before international criminal tribunals.

The Grotius Centre also arranges visits to the ICC and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, welcome drinks and a course dinner. Participants will be awarded a certificate of participation. For details please check the course website.