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

ICC/Africa: Nov '07

IWPR staff train journalists, develop stringer network and meet media representatives on a visit to DRC.
By IWPR staff
IWPR Africa project staff spent 11 days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, training journalists on reporting on the International Criminal Court, ICC, developing IWPR’s stringer network, and researching local media outlets for republishing material.

The trip began in the capital city of Kinshasa, where staff met editors of leading Congolese daily newspapers, including La Reference Plus, La Potentiel, Le Phare and Le Palmares. We told them about IWPR and the international justice programme and discussed some of the challenges faced by Congolese journalists when reporting on justice issues.

The respective editors of Kinshasa’s leading daily newspaper Le Potentiel and La Reference Plus were particularly interested in running IWPR pieces, which are now translated into French for the local audience.

The next destination was Goma in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, on the border with Rwanda, where a conflict between renegade general Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese army is still raging.

The team went to Rutshuru - about two hours away, over roads nearly destroyed by lava from the volcano which flattened Goma - to speak to people who have been internally displaced by the fighting. We asked them their views on justice and the ICC and out of this wrote a story outlining how the IDPs feel neglected by the court.

A visit to Goma Central Prison and interviews with Goma-based NGOs and lawyers on the Congolese justice system also generated an interesting piece.

Conditions in the prison were shocking. It has had no electricity for 11 years, there were no beds, no doors and food only once a day.

It was massively overcrowded with 500 people packed into a building meant only for 150 – the majority of whom are in pre-trial detention and military prisoners. Two children – aged 12 and 13 – were in jail for stealing, and some prisoners appeared to be dying of infected gunshot wounds and tuberculosis.

The third story generated from the trip was about the epidemic of sexual violence in the province. An NGO worker interviewed described the scale of the rape epidemic and the inability of the judicial system to cope with the problem. The result is a culture of impunity in North Kivu where rapists go unpunished and their victims ignored by the judiciary and in many cases, their families and communities.

It was then back to Kinshasa for a training session. Five men and two women attended the two-day session – the majority from the United Nations station Radio Okapi.

The first day focused on the ICC - its history, who’s who and how the court works both in The Hague and in the field.

Training on the second day was more practical, and was aimed at teaching reporters how to balance their piece and deal with issues they might face when writing about the ICC, such as contempt of court.

Trainees were also given an exercise, in which they took ICC press releases on the recent arrest of militia leader Germain Katanga and produced stories which were then discussed as a group.

Guest speakers took part on both days. On the first day, the reporters heard from a Kinshasa-based lawyer and member of the Lubanga defence team, followed by the DRC representative of the ICC’s outreach section who talked more about how the court works.

On the second day, Christian Hemedi came from the DRC Coalition for the ICC to discuss various issues, including the bill stalled before parliament to integrate the Rome Statute into Congolese law. The final speaker was an army colonel who talked about military court prosecutions of war crimes suspects.

Issues that generated huge debate included Lubanga and Katanga’s living conditions in The Hague, with the general consensus being that they should be made to suffer, not given access to a gym and a library.

Ways of protecting victims and witnesses was also discussed at length.

Reporters pointed out that Lubanga would see his accusers in court and wondered how these people would be protected when they returned to Ituri, where members of his militia are still at large in the community.

Also of huge interest was the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims. The trainees had never heard of it and asked detailed questions about how it worked and who would be compensated.

More debate surrounded the misconceptions many Congolese - and local journalists - have about the ICC. One in particular is that the court works with the government.

We also discussed difficulties the journalists face in their daily work, particularly when contacting government spokespeople.

Feedback from the journalists on the course has been largely positive with most saying the sessions were useful and interesting.

“I now understand how justice works at the ICC,” said Stephane Mukendi, a Kinshasa-based reporter at Radio Okapi. “I have also improved my judicial vocabulary.”

Etienne Muhindo from Okapi in North Kivu province said the training helped reinforce his knowledge about reporting on justice in the Congo, the workings of the ICC court and the role of Congolese military courts in prosecuting war crimes cases. “It was very informative on all levels,” he said.