ICC Seen as Struggling to Communicate
Court accused of doing too little to tell people in Africa about its work.
ICC Seen as Struggling to Communicate
Court accused of doing too little to tell people in Africa about its work.
The ICC is based in The Hague in The Netherlands, thousands of kilometres away from the countries it deals with: Uganda, the Central African Republic, CAR, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.
It is in the DRC – the country with the most indictees before the court – that the voices of discontent are the loudest.
IWPR has interviewed Congolese journalists, lawyers and civil society activists who say that people on the ground have little idea about what is going on in The Hague.
The ICC has instigated proceedings against five Congolese so far and investigations continue. Ituri militia leader Thomas Lubanga is currently on trial, and Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, also from Ituri, will take the stand in September.
Shortly afterwards the trial of ex vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba will commence. Only rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda remains at large.
Spreading the word about what is happening in The Hague in the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe, is an unenviable challenge.
The court has thus far concentrated its efforts in Ituri province, holding daily two hour-long interactive conversations with eight community radio stations there.
But journalists say attention needs to be spread elsewhere.
Faustin Kuediasala, from the daily Kinshasa-based newspaper Le Potentiel, says because there is little access to information about the court, interest in it is waning, “The Congolese have other worries than the ICC.”
It is to reach people like Kuediasala that the outreach section of the ICC was established. Four outreach staff are stationed in The Hague and six in the DRC, dedicated to ensuring that affected communities understand and can follow the work of the court.
After a long struggle to find the right people (one post had to be re-advertised five times) there are now two outreach officers in Bangui, the CAR capital. Two people work on outreach in Darfur – mainly from refugee camps in Chad – and five in Uganda.
They are plagued by logistical problems. Getting to affected communities, which frequently lie in pockets of ongoing violence, is often deemed too risky.
Even the court says the annual outreach budget of 650,000 euros (910,000 US dollars) is not enough.
“It needs to be very clear that with the limited resources we have, we will only be able to conduct very limited outreach. We want to do it, but if the states don’t give us enough resources, we can only do what we can do,” said Claudia Perdomo, head of outreach at the ICC.
But activists on the ground say the court’s limited budget is misspent and outreach targets the wrong people, leaving those who need to know about the court in the dark.
The problem appears to be most serious in war-torn North Kivu province. The area has been beset by conflict in recent years and ICC prosecutors have started an investigation into sexual violence crimes, the recruitment of child soldiers and the illegal flow of weapons.
Prosecutors remain tight-lipped about progress and the four ICC outreach officers stationed in Kinshasa and Bunia have only been to North and South Kivu a handful of times.
Journalists in Goma – North Kivu’s regional capital – say they don’t have enough information about the court, and are struggling to provide news to the population.
“Two years ago, a journalist from Bujumbura brought me a leaflet speaking about ICC. This is the only occasion I heard about it,” said Primo Pascal Rudahigwa, programme officer at DRC broadcaster RTNC, the official radio in Goma. “Personally, I have no idea on what ICC is doing in Kivu,” he added.
Goma journalist Albert Kambale said the ICC has to intensify its activities, “It could be better to organise activities between three and four times a month ... they have to inform us so that we can inform others.”
As well as engaging with journalists to disseminate information, Juvenal Munubo, a lawyer from Goma, says more needs to be done to brief the legal community, and that the lack of communication of the ICC is tarnishing its image, “The ICC is holding meetings of 30 to 60 minutes in luxury hotels, [but] to what end?
“You cannot understand the ICC within 30 minutes, even if you are a lawyer. You need at least two weeks. But apparently the preoccupation of the ICC is elsewhere [than Goma].”
Perdomo said her team is working out the best way to inform the Kivus about what is happening at the ICC, but until an arrest warrant comes out of the Kivus investigation, her team is bound to concentrate efforts on Ituri.
But international NGOs say the court should start outreach in an area as soon as it decides to investigate.
"Otherwise you get to the stage of the trial and people don't know anything about the ICC, and it is hard to go back and create informed awareness," said Alison Smith from the NGO No Peace Without Justice.
The ICC has cited continuing insecurity as a reason for not being on the ground in the Kivus, but Smith says that not being present is the ICC’s biggest flaw. “You need to be there. People want to know but if you don't go there, there is no chance they will know," she said.
Perdomo said that her team follows security advice from the United Nations Mission in the DRC and that “whenever there is a window of opportunity because the security conditions allow us, we go”.
She stressed that security issues influence who she hires and field coordinators have to be international so that they can be plucked out of the country if there is a problem. “With a local person we cannot – their families are still there. They can face retaliation from enemies of the court. We operate in ongoing conflicts,” she said.
Perdomo insisted that the court cannot put people in risk, “This is something we are not going to do. This is not a game.”
However, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu from the Open Society Institute said, “If the ICC cites security as an excuse for not taking outreach to where it is needed, we must spare more than a thought for the victims who live in these places that the personnel of the ICC are afraid to go to. What happens to them?”
The court is dedicated to broadcasting the opening and closing days of each trial in the DRC but sending the satellite signal to RTNC is expensive, and broadcasting the beginning and end of all the current trials adds up to 90,000 euros.
This takes quite a chunk out of the overall 650,000 euros, but Perdomo says sending live TV images is necessary.
To make sure as many people as possible saw the first day of the Lubanga trial in January, the ICC set up a big screen in the town centre in Bunia, the capital of the Ituri region. But far more people than expected tried to cram in to the screening, and it eventually had to be suspended.
To make matters worse, RTNC cut the transmission just before the defence’s opening remarks, causing uproar among Lubanga supporters. "If you don't control what's broadcast you can't control the message. It means the ICC is not in complete charge of the message they want to give to people of DRC," Smith said.
She also rejected arguments that a lack of money is the reason for poor outreach.
"A full robust outreach programme needs proper financial support. But in the interim there are less expensive ways to do it. All you need is someone on the ground with a mobile, an internet connection, and some documents, and you can do effective outreach. But you need enough people on the ground to do outreach in this way," Smith said.
But Perdomo said it is not a matter of calling by phone to relate a story, “It is about bringing people together to have a dialogue, and you need to pay transportation, meals and accommodation.”
Each outreach activity in the DRC costs approximately 750-800 dollars, including renting a venue, hiring equipment, and paying for transport, accommodation and meals for participants.
The ICC also pays local community radio stations to broadcast its audio update about court proceedings. “We pay them to broadcast our materials, because we understand they have to live on something,” Perdomo said.
“You try to be as creative as possible, and expand the funds you have so that you have an impact in what you are doing.”
But Congolese journalists are critical of some of this creative thinking, and say some outreach activities focus on the wrong people in the wrong regions.
In May an event, called No to the use of child soldiers, was organised in Kinshasa. Children recited poetry and performed ballet, and actors and singers were drafted in to raise the event’s profile.
Thomas d’Aquin Moustapha from North Kivu said Kinshasa was not the right place for such an event., “[It] should be organised directly in the provinces affected by the armed conflict and where the recruitment of child soldiers is a reality.”
Perdomo said the ICC had wanted to hold an event in Bunia, but it was not possible because of internal problems in schools. She stressed it was important to raise awareness in Kinshasa, where the country’s political direction is determined.
Those in the Kivus say the absence of on-the-ground activities is causing victims to lose faith in the court.
Evariste Mabruki, president of an NGO from Goma, says that “lacking a field office in North Kivu and lacking information about the ICC, victims do not know anymore whom to turn to”, and ignorance about the ICC has led to a lack of interest among victims.
Odinkalu says that if the ICC is to be credible, it needs victims and host communities to trust and take it seriously, “Speaking about the situation and locations that I know, this is not presently the case.”
Mariana Pena from human rights group FIDH is disappointed that outreach did not start earlier in the CAR, “It has been two years now and one person has been arrested, but the number of activities is extremely low.
“It is a key issue in the CAR and was also a problem in the DRC. If you don’t start early with outreach, misunderstandings start circulating and it is difficult to counter these perceptions later.”
In March, Marie-Edith Douzima, a central African lawyer representing victims in the Bemba trial, told IWPR that central Africans are growing impatient, “Last year we worked together with the ICC to outline strategies for informing people in our country. But they went back to The Hague and we didn’t see any results.”
Lucile Mazangue, a member of the association of women lawyers in the CAR, said that when the ICC office was first set up they organised seminars and broadcast material on the radio, but after a while they stopped.
“[Soon] we noticed the ICC did not do anything. So the association asked why the ICC didn’t engage with us so that we could explain it to the people,” he said.
Pena said this is causing disappointment and frustration, “When someone from the court comes, there are planning sessions but no follow-up. People then don’t want to hear about the ICC because they don’t believe anything about it anymore.”
Marcel Nboula, from Le Citoyen newspaper, told IWPR in March, “We never receive information about what is happening at the court. We search the internet and republish [articles] but don’t get any news from the ICC. We used to get information from Goungaye Wanfiyo [a CAR lawyer who was killed in a car accident in December] until he died.”
Since these interviews were conducted, sources in Bangui say outreach activities have been ramped up, including awareness-raising workshops around the city and nearby provinces, during which videos are shown and question and answer sessions held about the court.
Two training sessions have been hosted for 72 journalists in Bangui, and in July, the court will start broadcasting a radio programme called Ask the Court.
The programmes are in Sango, the national language, and respond to frequently asked questions. Each of the 13 episodes will be broadcast three times on seven different radio stations in the capital.
The country has no national radio station and virtually no media outside Bangui, meaning that central Africans away from the capital are largely cut off from information.
“We have pleaded for the court to give information in Bangui for [details about the court] to be known,” said lawyer Celestin N’Zala. “But people in the provinces do not know about the ICC. A lot needs to be done. People need to be sensitised so they know.”
Kenyan journalists like documentary maker Maina Kiai say that while the ICC considers opening an investigation into post-election violence committed in December 2007, it should engage and inform people about whether the crimes fit ICC's mandate, and what factors influence their decision making.
"In a situation where Kenyans are waiting with baited breath, it would not hurt the ICC to keep informing us and answering the questions we have," Maina Kiai said.
While the prosecutor's office has been helpful in organising interviews, Kai said the same is not true for other organs of the court, "It would help if the ICC would consider how hard and difficult it is to access The Hague from Africa."
Justice Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor for the Rwanda and Yugoslav war crimes tribunals, said that the media is “the most effective way to explain what is happening in the court, and counter any negative rumours or misconceptions. If the court doesn't do this, then it will lose an essential ally".
Silvana Arbia, the ICC’s registrar, agreed that “the role of journalists is very important for justice”, but stressed that reaching journalists is not always easy.
“In villages we have journalists who do not know how to receive information. We try to reach every journalist who is interested, and also to outreach and show other journalists and urge them to be interested in the ICC,” she said.
In support of this, 27 listening clubs have been set up in villages around Ituri, and given radio sets and mini-recorders to enable communities to listen to news about the court, and send back their taped questions.
Perdomo hopes to roll out the idea in the Kivus, “We give them telephone cards and the equipment to install the club. This helps us cover areas that are not easily accessible on the ground.”
But Enack Makunda, NGO coordinator in Goma, said communicating with people through radio is not enough, “Many people will get the message, but will not be convinced. There is no interaction. People cannot discuss with the radio on the programme it is broadcasting.
“Therefore, it is good to develop grassroots activities which can enable the community to discuss more points which were broadcast.”
Perdomo acknowledged it is not the same as engaging people face-to-face, “We need to engage the people not once and leave, but meet with the same group several times and update them, and let them know the court cares.”
As well as ramping up their work with journalists, NGOs are calling for the ICC to engage with them more actively, because they can reach parts of the country the court cannot.
“The ICC office [in the CAR] should be reinforced so that a wider awareness campaign can be done, so that simple people in the street can say something about the ICC. The ICC should work with local NGOs. If we work in collaboration we can tell people about the ICC,” Mazangue said.
Smith said the outreach team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone worked with NGOs, which knew how to reach people and overcome cultural and language barriers, “There are certain messages that have to come from the court, but civil society played a crucial role in getting the message out."
Arbia agreed that local NGOs play a crucial role in helping the court to reach people, “We are very grateful for that. Without the contribution of NGOs in this difficult situation, it would not be possible for us to act as we do.”
When asked whether the 109 states that support the court and back it financially, called the Assembly of States Parties, ASP, should apportion more money to outreach activities, Arbia said that there are other factors which limit the court’s ability to reach all affected communities, and called on the 109 states also to play a role.
“Even if we get more money, the court alone can never do everything that is necessary. It is not possible for us – the number of staff will always be limited. Sometimes we fail because we don’t receive support. We cannot go to a village because we don’t have security sometimes because of lack of cooperation of the state,” she said.
NGOs, journalists, lawyers and victims are frustrated by the lack of information about the ICC because they believe in the court and are impatient to see justice in their countries.
Getting through to war-affected people is a challenge. Speaking about the detention of Bemba, one woman in Bangui said, “I don’t know where Bemba is. He must be in his own country. We heard about ICC but made no effort to know about it. We have bad memories of Bemba so don’t want to know.”
She said she cannot read newspapers and does not have access to a radio and would therefore struggle to hear about the court even if she wanted to. However, she stressed that she hopes the court’s involvement in the CAR will “stop people raping, knowing they may face justice”.
Mathurin Constant Nestor Momet, from Le Confident newspaper in Bangui, said, “The ICC is reassuring, because it is fair in the middle, not on the side of the government or the people.”
NGO leaders in North Kivu hope that the ICC will start engaging them soon, or speculation about what the court is doing, and disappointment about what it does not appear to be doing, will spiral.
They are impatient for the ICC to bring its message clearly to the Kivus, confident that it could help deter violent behaviour from authorities and militia leaders.
“The authorities are protecting perpetrators and say that they need peace first and justice after, but there is no peace without justice. People want to see ICC sensitising those authorities as well,” Moustapha said.
Reported by Jacques Kahorha in Goma and Katy Glassborow in Bangui. With additional reporting by Patrick Tshamala and Taylor Toeka Kakala in the DRC, and Ewing Ahmed Salumu in The Hague.