28th November 2018
By Tom Law

Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals

In the fourth of our series of the Frontline Club‘s ‘Ethics in the News’ series of events with the Ethical Journalism Network, we teamed up with Global Rights Compliance to put together a panel to debate the legal and ethical issues encountered by journalists when they are asked, sometimes ordered, to testify in international criminal tribunals.

It will not be long before journalists covering the war crimes in Syria and Yemen, or the potential acts of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and many other conflicts besides, are asked, perhaps even compelled, to testify about what they witnessed.

This event sought to help provide journalists with an ethical framework and legal understanding of the difficulties that arise.

  • How should journalists respond to demands from international criminal tribunals? Why are some journalists are reluctant to testify, while others felt it is their duty?
  • What obligations and duties do journalists have if their work is used as evidence?
  • Should knowledge that reporting may be used in court influence how journalists work?
  • If journalists do agree to testify, to what extent and under what conditions should they cooperate and collaborate with the court and prosecutors?

]The event looked at the divergent opinions of the journalists who have been asked to testify at International Criminal Tribunals. Some decided that on balance it was the right thing to too, while others argued that giving evidence compromises the independence of journalists and could endanger the lives of reporters who find themselves in similar situations in the future.

We heard from both a judge and an international criminal barrister, as well as how verification techniques can help journalists and war crimes investigators and prosecutors in their quest for the truth.

The differing points of view are well outlined in this Guardian article from 2002. One journalist who felt that journalists should be prepared to risk their safety and testify was Ed Vulliamy, who testified against General Ratko Mladić at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Vulliamy laid out his reasoning in an op-ed for the Observer that year “An obligation to the truth”. Sixteen years on, Vulliamy will share what he learnt from the experience and his thoughts on the challenges and pitfalls faced by journalists.

Wayne Jordash QC, who has appeared before all of the international criminal tribunals and courts, discussed practical tips for insulating such testimony, ensuring it is robust enough to withstand cross-examination and forensic criticism. He also discussed how journalistic testimony is challenged and undermined in practice inside the courtrooms.

The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Adrian Fulford offered a unique and distinguished analysis of how he and his colleagues dealt with testimony from journalists, the weight it is given, and attitudes towards maintaining sources of confidentiality.

Wendy Betts of eyeWitness to Atrocities – an organisation that bridges the gap between frontline journalism and criminal accountability for mass atrocities – shared her expansive practical experience in documenting human rights violations and the development of the eyeWitness app.

Q&A Discussion


Dorothy Byrne

Dorothy Byrne is Chair of the Ethical Journalism Network and Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4.

She was appointed in September 2003, having previously edited the award-winning Dispatches.

During her tenure, the Channel’s news and current affairs programmes have won numerous BAFTA, RTS, Emmy Awards and others. In 2014, Dispatches won the RTS Journalism Awards for both best Home and best International Current Affairs, the first time one strand won both awards, and Channel Four News won the RTS Journalism Award for Best News Programme of the Year for the second year running.


The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Adrian Fulford

The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Adrian Fulford, is England and Wales’ most Senior Presiding Judge, he was elected to serve as the UK’s judge before International Criminal Court for a term of 9 years, assigned to the trial division. Lord Justice Fulford is the Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC), with responsibility for reviewing the use of investigatory powers by public authorities, such as intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Sir Adrian is a serving Lord Justice of Appeal and a former Senior Presiding Judge for England & Wales. Until recently, he served as the judge in charge of IT and the Reform Programme, which includes “transferring justice to the cloud”. Previously he served as a High Court Judge (Queen’s Bench Division) and as a judge of the International Criminal Court.”

Wayne Jordash, QC

Wayne Jordash QC is leading international humanitarian and criminal law expert with experience across the globe, regularly advising governments on human rights and international humanitarian law compliance, including the Bangladeshi, Libyan, Serbian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese governments. He is a managing partner of Global Rights Compliance, a human rights and humanitarian advisory law company and foundation specializing in the reform of national systems of accountability to ensure complementarity with international standards. He has served as an advocate in international criminal proceedings before the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’), International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’), Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (‘ECCC’), International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (‘ICTR’), Special Court for Sierra Leone (‘SCSL’), and is currently appointed as lead counsel at the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (‘IRMCT’).

Wendy Betts, Director of eyeWitness to Atrocities

Wendy Betts, Director of eyeWitness to Atrocities

Wendy Betts has more than twenty years of experience in human rights and transitional justice. She previously served as the Director of the American Bar Association War Crimes Documentation Project.  She has written and presented on topics related to human rights documentation, international criminal law, and accountability and co-authored a report entered as evidence in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  She is currently a member of the Technology Advisory Board of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  Ms. Betts has a M.A. in International Relations/International Economics from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Ed Vulliamy

Ed Vulliamy

Ed Vulliamy worked for more than 30 years as a staff international reporter with the Guardian and Observer newspapers of London – he still works for both, now as a freelance author and journalist. He won all major awards in British journalism for his coverage of the Balkan wars between 1991-5 and discovered the gulag of concentration camps operated by the Bosnian Serbs in the Northwest Krajina region of Bosnia. As a result, he became the first reporter to testify at a war crimes tribunal since those at Nuremberg, testifying in nine trials at the ICTY, including those of Radovan Karadžić and General Ratko Mladić.

About the Organisations involved

The Ethical Journalism Network is an alliance of reporters, editors and publishers aiming to strengthen journalism around the world, working to build trust in news media through training, education and research.

To find out how to support the EJN visit: https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/support

Global Rights Compliance is a niche organisation offering a unique approach to atrocity crimes and other violations of international law. Our “root and branch” philosophy combines innovative full-spectrum accountability strategies, expertise in evidence gathering in conflict settings, and building the capacity of States to implement international humanitarian and human rights standards. Global Rights Compliance is run by Wayne Jordash QC.

Website: https://www.globalrightscompliance.com/

eyeWitness to Atrocities provides a mobile camera app that allows users to capture photos and video that are embedded with metadata to verify where and when the footage was taken. By sending footage to eyeWitness’s secure server, the app user creates a trusted chain of custody. eyeWitness also advocates for the material, working with other organisations to ensure that the footage is used to promote accountability for the crimes captured on camera.

Website: http://www.eyewitnessproject.org/