International Justice/ICC: Apr ‘09

IWPR trainees from Uganda and Congo take part in international justice seminar at leading US university.

International Justice/ICC: Apr ‘09

IWPR trainees from Uganda and Congo take part in international justice seminar at leading US university.

Wednesday, 24 June, 2009
Two African IWPR trainees, who contribute regularly to our international justice output, participated in a conference in California in April to discuss the challenges facing African journalists covering human rights issues.

Journalists Bill Oketch, from Lira, Uganda, and Jack Kahorha of Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, were key presenters at the event, Bearing Witness to Atrocity: A MacArthur Symposium on International Criminal Justice, held at the University of California, Berkeley on April 8-9.

Oketch and Kahorha revealed personal stories that typify difficulties faced by African journalists when collecting information and writing stories about human rights abuses in conflict zones.

Oketch talked about losing two of his brothers to the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, which waged a 20- year insurgency in northern Uganda.

Oketch said he was asked to pick up a gun to fight the rebels, but chose to become a journalist instead.

Kahorha, who has written extensively about fighting in the North and South Kivu provinces of DRC, and the epidemic of rape across the region, discussed being arrested and detained while trying to get both sides of the story.

Both journalists addressed the critical need to bring Africa's evolving story of atrocities and justice to the world at large. Trained by IWPR, they write about International Criminal Court-related subjects and issues in the field.

The panel was moderated by IWPR Africa Editor Peter Eichstaedt, and included Muadi Mukengo, regional director for the Global Fund for Women.

On Monday, April 6, that same week, Oketch and Kahorha made an evening presentation at the River Club in New York City on the work of IWPR for a group of nearly 40 supporters, contributors and board members of the IWPR-US organisation.

Oketch thanked IWPR for the chance to participate in the seminars and talk about human rights to an international audience. “I’ve worked for many news outlets but none of them ever granted me such opportunity,” he said.

The trip focused local attention on Oketch, who was asked to help tell the story of northern Uganda to the outside world.

“Before I got onto the flight, Rebecca Otengo, a member of parliament who represents the women of Lira, escorted me to the airport,” he said.

He said she told him, “When you arrive there, tell the world about the problems caused by the prolonged conflict between the Kampala government and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Let them know that although guns are silent we still need them to help us rebuild our region.’”

Oketch said he didn’t forget the request he carried from Uganda and said that while in New York, he took the opportunity to discuss the problems of sexual violence perpetrated against women and children.

“I realised that journalists in my country have a lot to do to help our people come out of the LRA conflict through professional reporting,” he said. “I’ve learned lot of new stuff, such as interviewing techniques, presenting myself in public and how to manage time.”

At the Human Rights Center, the University of California, Berkeley, Oketch said he was able to make valuable contacts and use the opportunity to address “academics about my own experiences as a journalist, why I became a journalist, [and] challenges facing journalism in my country.

“I was able to make as many contacts as I could, which I believe will help my colleague journalists and me in future. Some international humanitarian organisations who were moved by my presentation … have also pledged support to LRA war victims in the north.”

Support our journalists