Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Outreach Under Fire

The court is urged to invest more in outreach work, as misinformation about its activities mounts.
By Sara Goodman
The ICC is facing enormous obstacles in educating the people of Sudan about the process of international justice. Faced with a hostile Khartoum government and continued violence in Darfur, prosecution investigators and outreach programmes are forced to operate from neighboring countries, such as Chad.



The Khartoum government rejects the court and works against it while the level of violence and resulting security concerns make it impossible to maintain an outreach presence in the troubled west of the country.



Claudia Perdomo, outreach coordinator at the ICC, said the court is now focusing on Sudanese refugee camps in Chad as a primary way to inform people of the its activities.



A team recently returned from an outreach effort in four eastern Chad refugee camps. The visit coincided with the release of arrest warrants for a Sudanese militia leader and government official, and Perdomo said ICC representatives met camp leaders and explained the meaning of the warrants, as well as other facts about the court.



Wasil Ali, a reporter from the Sudan Tribune, who follows the situation in Sudan closely, said the outreach initiative in Chad is an important move, and one of the only real options the court has, given the situation in Sudan. “They are finally starting to address the [information] problem,” he said.



The ICC is also working at translating important documents into Arabic, the main Sudanese language; providing local media with the updates on court activities; putting together a special radio programme for the refugee camps and developing relations with the Sudanese diaspora.



However, some experts say the ICC has not done enough to communicate its key messages to the region, notwithstanding the obstacles and challenges it faces in Sudan.



According to a report released this week by the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, IBA, the court’s outreach needs to increase “significantly” in Sudan and Uganda, but particularly Sudan.



The report states that “the initiation of relatively low-level outreach activities two years after the referral of the situation of Darfur to the ICC is problematic both for the work of the court and the involvement of the communities most affected”.



Lorna McGregor, programme lawyer at the Human Rights Institute and author of the report, said the level of outreach so far in Sudan is “disappointing”. She said the IBA focuses on outreach as a two-way process: providing information about international law and justice, but also getting feedback from the community through forums and other types of discussions.



“The key is to keep finding creative ways to get information out there and also to receive information from Sudanese individuals and groups,” she said. “If [the court] has greater feedback it can conduct targeted campaigns, but it has to know what the key areas are from the local communities.”



There is currently misinformation surrounding the ICC within Sudan, both intentional and not.



The Sudanese government uses the local media, including television and newspapers, to tell the people what it wants them to believe about the court, according to Hashim Ahmed, director of Sudan Organisation Against Torture.



For example, the Khartoum authorities have said the international community is using the ICC to try to invade Sudan; that the United States is behind the court; and that it has no jurisdiction in Sudan.



Besides the information being spread by the government, there is also a basic lack of understanding about what the court does.



Rumours circulate about how it operates and what impact it will have. Sometimes, even those people who support the court don’t understand it, and spread wrong information with the best of intentions, said Ali.



The result from this mainly one-sided flow of information is that people aren’t being properly informed of what is happening, say observers.



“It leaves a gap in the voices that are being heard in Sudan,” said Alison Smith, legal counsel for the NGO No Peace Without Borders.



Smith said simple steps, like working closely with NGOs on the ground to help distribute leaflets and posters about the court, could dramatically increase the level of understanding.



It’s hard to know the extent of what the ICC is planning, though, because of the dire security situation. The court doesn’t want to fully disclose information that might endanger partners with whom it is working.



However, Ahmed said in spite of the many problems, he believes the attempts to raise awareness are going well, claiming that most people know about the court and support it, even if they don’t understand all the details.



Ahmed said people want the ICC to try those responsible for crimes committed, as they say local courts are too corrupt to do so.



“People know the Sudanese judiciary is [in the hands of the] government and not capable or impartial,” he said. “It’s why the ICC should come in. People know the injustices being done. It’s their lives. In their hearts they are in full support of the ICC.”



Sara Goodman is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.