2011 - %3, April

7 Questions About the International Criminal Court Answered

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
The ICC's headquarters in The Hague.

As mentioned earlier, this week I'm in The Hague, doing some reporting at the International Criminal Court. Since a lot of people seem to have only the vaguest sense of what it is, and because I've learned some interesting facts since I got here, I put together a quick primer that answers a few of your burning ICC-related questions.

What is the International Criminal Court?
It's the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It was established in 2002, when its founding Rome Statute Treaty, which 114 states are party to, went into effect. It is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is not housed in a big fabulous structure with marble floors, but in an old corporate office building, the former parking garage of which holds the actual courtrooms.

How does something end up at trial in the ICC?
One of three ways. A case can be referred to the ICC by a member state. Or crimes in a non-member state can be referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council, as in the recent case of Libya. Or anyone can give the Office of the Prosecutor information that gives cause to look into it. If a resulting investigation shows war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, and the state in which they occur is unwilling or unable to prosecute the case itself, the "court of last resort" ICC can issue warrants of arrest or summons to appear.

In what countries is the ICC currently investigating crimes?
Despite criticisms that the ICC only tries Africans, which is so far/currently true, it is looking into cases in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Georgia, Palestine, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria, and South Korea.

Are there any trials going on now?
Yeah, against Congolese alleged war-crimes perpetrators Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Except on days where testimony is too sensitive, as when a witness could be in particular danger of retribution, the trials are open to the public.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo: Nico Colombant/VOA news/WikimediaJean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in 2006. Nico Colombant/VOA news/Wikimedia

Am I allowed to wear "provocative" clothing to go watch a war-crimes trial?
No.

What happens if I pull my cell phone out when I'm in the observation gallery while court is in session?
Any testimony that a witness is giving is considered compromised and automatically canceled, and that witness is not allowed to testify anymore.

Am I allowed to mean-mug Jean-Pierre Bemba, on trial for multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging, from a few feet away in the observation gallery, while he sits watching the proceedings against him with his cantaloupe head calmly sunk into hunched shoulders?
Yes. Although he will, however many times his eyes flicker over toward your face, never meet your gaze.

 

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Africa Ho! (And How You Can Help)

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 6:25 PM PDT

I've recently embarked on an epic reporting trip. Currently, I'm in The Hague, the Netherlands, where I'm spending the rest of the week at the International Criminal Court, including some quality time with Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Next week, I'm headed to Congo. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I honestly can't tell you why—not because I'd have to kill you, but because it does involve a lot of other people having been killed. Some tweeters have wondered why MoJo is doing extra fundraising for this trip, and I'm happy to answer that, as the racker-up of the expenses: Keeping me and everyone else involved safe in Congo means having to bring some of the standard local-support staff in with me from the United States, plus extra layers of security for those who will be assisting me who are already on the ground. What I can say now is that this story is violent and fascinating and has implications that reach back to the United States; that it explores much-needed information about global foreign policy; that it should damn well be written but requires a budget that would be green-lighted by only a fool or a magazine that knows it can rely on its readers to support exceptional if not-revenue-generating content. And then there's another, unrelated story in Uganda, one that will be deep and personal and ultimately, I think, surprising.

Can I quantify "epic" reporting trip? Sure. About $25,000—just for the reporting part. Even employing the highest level of Midwestern resourcefulness and thrift.

Anyway, I'll be sending lots of updates (as it's safe to do so) from the road and, of course, producing a couple of features when I get back. And then I guess we can decide whether it costs more to report them, or more not to.

Fun Petrochemical-Accident Fact of the Day

| Sat Apr. 2, 2011 7:11 AM PDT

From fellow panelist Steve Lerner at the Future of the South Symposium: The Gulf Oil Spill After One Year conference this weekend:

Between 2005 and 2009 Louisiana's 17 oil refineries reported 2,607 chemical accidents to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. That's 10 per week. 

(Read the rest of the stats in the refinery-accident report that came from here.)