In comparison to criticisms such as the effects of the ICC’s work has on peace, on the costs of the Court’s trials, and on the Court’s supposed Western, colonial mode of justice, the issue of it’s lacking capacity for outreach has largely escaped scrutiny. Today, however, outreach is at the heart of the work of tribunals which recognize that justice cannot only be done it has to ‘be seen to be done.’ The ICC’s increased attention on outreach is an implicit recognition of the political implications and consequences of its work and mandate.
While it is easy to forget, the ICC is still a young institution and it is learning its way. Sometimes the process of learning has been a struggle. It has made some mistakes along the way and it will undoubtedly make errors in judgment as it continues to develop as an institution. One oversight in its early investigations was taking into consideration how it would be perceived in the contexts in which it investigated crimes. There seemed to be an assumption that if the Court opened an investigation or began a prosecution, that the citizens of the states where those investigations took place would understand what was happening. Given that the Court’s work has been focused on societies where the rule of law has been largely or entirely absent as a result of violent political conflicts, this was a pretty unfounded assumption to make.
Take, for example, the case of the ICC’s judicial intervention in Uganda. The brutal conflict in northern Uganda was referred to the ICC by the Ugandan government in 2003. In 2005, following its investigation, the ICC indicted five senior officials of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) including its notoriously brutal leader, Joseph Kony. The ICC, however, miscalculated or simply did not consider how the public manner of its decisions would be perceived by the Ugandan public. Sure, the Court understood that its supporters would hail the ICC’s investigations and indictments as a victory for humanity. But when ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke about the investigations at a joint press conference in London with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, it entrenched views that the Court was biased and would only investigate crimes committed by the LRA and not by the Ugandan government. In Trial Justice, which remains the single best account of the ICC’s work in Uganda, Tim Allen writes:
“In Uganda, there are specific reasons why the ICC has been open and vulnerable to local criticism and pressure. First, the court made an error in judgement in January 2004 when the chief prosecutor held a joint press briefing with President Museveni. From that time onwards, his office has had to struggle to demonstrate that it is not simply ‘in the pocket’ of the Ugandan government.”
Such misjudgements are part of the growing pains of an institution that has struggled to understand the political implications of its work, often preferring to deny it affects or is affected by political realities. Yet, as the old marketing adage goes, it can be dangerous to assume that everyone loves and knows your product as much as you do.
Sara Kendall and Alpha Sesay recently pointed out that “transitional justice has grown increasingly self-reflexive about its audience and its objectives.” The Court has not only engaged more productively with its critics but has also began to reflect on its own practices and record. This is a sign of an increasingly confident and mature institution. In this context, the ICC has understood that for it to be effective in the situations within which it intervenes, it must invest in pathways of outreach. The Court now conducts outreach sessions in many local communities. This past summer, the ICC announced that it would be establishing a liaison office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in order to “encourage dialogue” and the “exchange of information” between the Court and the African Union, which has had a less than comfortable relationship with the Court in recent months.
In the case of Kenya, the ICC clearly needs its work to be understood by the population. Importantly, the Court no longer assumes that the citizenry will immediately understand the value of its work. It also appears to recognize that the spread of misinformation about its work and the meaning of its work pose a serious threat to its chances of success. As a result, the Outreach Unit of the ICC has launched a TV series called Ask the Court:
Ask the Court answers the most frequently asked questions raised by the Kenyan population on the Court’s mandate and its work. The TV series has been designed to foster interaction between the Court and the national population, in particular with those most affected by the post-election violence. It explains judicial developments as they unfold, clarifies the next steps in the Court’s procedures, and enhances transparency and understanding of ICC proceedings.
The show, which lacks for pizazz, has aired on a handful of Kenyan television stations, has been translated into four local languages and broadcast on 13 local radio stations.
Ask the Court is a sign of a maturing Court and importantly, a recognition that the ICC’s work and mandate does not exist within a political vacuum but has political consequences in societies in which it acts.
Here’s the first episode: