A Life of Legal Principle, Not of Politics – An Interview with Theodor Meron

Earlier this month, Shehzad Charania visited Judge Theodor Meron in The Hague. They spoke of Meron’s life as a legal advisor, diplomat, and as one of the most influential jurists in the history of international criminal justice. The following is Shehzad’s interview with Meron. His previous interviews with key figures in the world of international criminal law can be found here.

Judge Theodor Meron (Photo: Voices of the Tribunal)

Judge Theodor Meron (Photo: Voices of the Tribunal)

In early July, I paid a visit to President Judge Theodor Meron at his office in The Hague. I had gotten to know him well over the last three years, and wanted to take the opportunity to record his fascinating career. Judge Meron is currently the President of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT), Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and a visiting professor at Oxford University. He has, amongst other roles, been the Legal Adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israeli Ambassador to Canada, Permanent Representative to the Israeli Mission at the United Nations in Geneva, Counselor on International Law at the US State Department, a Professor at NYU and the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Berkeley, and editor in chief of the American Journal of International Law. He is also a leading scholar of Shakespeare and war.

I began by asking Meron about his childhood growing up in a labour camp in Poland. “Surviving in ghettos, hiding in lofts, losing most of my family and spending several years in a forced labour camp is not something I would wish for any child”, he told me. He emerged from the war with a yearning for school and “normality”. Education soon became an obsession. The impact of the war led him into international law, in particular the fields which held the promise of reducing the risk of the atrocities, violence and chaos he had experienced during his childhood.

Meron’s first senior role came when he was appointed Legal Adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, replacing Professor Shabtai Rosenne. In 2006, an article by Gershom Gorenberg in the New York Times revealed an opinion Meron had written in 1967, in the aftermath of Six-Day War after the Israelis had captured the West Bank and Golan Heights. In a memo marked “Top Secret”, Meron concluded that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention”. A year later, Meron wrote a further opinion, noting that demolitions of houses and deportations of Arabs suspected of subversive activities would violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, and may constitute collective punishment.

“My concern in both opinions”, argues Meron, “was not only ensuring respect for humanitarian law but also for human rights”. He was particularly worried about the need “not to change the demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories”. But what about the reaction he had received to those opinions at the time? There were no negative repercussions, he said. “I think those who read them understood that taking the positions was for me a question of legal principle, not of politics”. He is clearly proud of what he had written, and that he had had “the guts” to say what be believed.

Meron worked at the Israeli Foreign Ministry until the mid-1970s. In 1977, he returned to New York, where a decade earlier he had served at the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, mostly on the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly. He later wrote a book based on his experience of the UN Secretariat. Following postings to Ottawa as Ambassador, and Geneva as Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Meron entered academia at NYU Law School, where he would remain for two decades. During that time, he became a US citizen. It was his adopted country which would ask him to join the US Delegation to travel to Rome in 1998 to negotiate the ICC statute.

It was an “extraordinary experience”, says Meron. A “heady, exciting time, with long days and even longer nights”. But it was also a challenging period for the US delegation. While the members of the delegation were sympathetic to the idea of international criminal justice, and the establishment of the ICC in principle, there was some trepidation and even fear of the court in Washington. One of the US Senators most opposed to the idea of the ICC was Jesse Helms. Members of his office were in Rome closely observing the negotiations and, in particular, what the US delegation said and did. But while the career diplomats had to be cautious, Meron as an academic member of the delegation was not under the same constraints that applied to those from the State Department or the Department of Justice. It meant that he was heavily involved in drafting what became Article 7 of the Rome Statute on Crimes against Humanity, as well as other key provisions. He, like others on the delegation, believed in the ICC project, and genuinely felt that they were “changing the world for the better”. Continue reading

Posted in ICTY, International Criminal Court (ICC), Interview, Israel, United States | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Seeing the Forest for the Trees: The International Criminal Court and the Peace-Justice Debate

This article is a critical assessment of the scholarship and current state of the so-called “peace versus justice” debate. It is largely based on findings from my new book, which seeks to assess the impacts of the ICC on ending wars and building peace. The article was originally posted at International Criminal Justice Today, an an online magazine operated by the American Bar Association and Stanford Law School. I am grateful for the opportunity to write for their publication and to work with their wonderful team, especially Beth Van Schaack, Kip Hale, and Allen Weiner.

(Image: Dudelol)

(Image: Dudelol)

Few debates in international justice are as important yet inspire as much disagreement as the debate about the relationship between peace and justice. Should justice be pursued in response to mass atrocities when conflicts are still ongoing or when wars have only been recently concluded? Should peace and justice go hand-in-hand or should justice always follow peace? Does a moral, legal and political obligation to victims and survivors who demand accountability trump the possibility that justice may complicate conflict resolution? Will bringing perpetrators of mass atrocities to justice ultimately help or hinder efforts to build and maintain peace?

These questions arise in the so-called “peace versus justice” debate, which has gained notoriety with the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) and increasing expectations that international criminal justice institutions will act as ‘first responders’ in emerging conflicts. Almost fifteen years have passed since the creation of the ICC, yet it remains difficult to maintain that we’re much closer to a conclusive verdict as to the relationship between international criminal justice and the pursuit of peace. Every time reports emerge that the ICC might become active in an ongoing and active conflict, both sides of the peace-justice debate rehash and recycle their claims: the Court will ruin any prospects for peace or, without the Court, meaningful peace is a pipe dream. The current state of the debate needs fresh thinking and a renewed appreciation of the complexity of issues at play when the ICC investigates and prosecutes belligerents in active conflicts. Focusing so singularly on the ICC’s effects at the expense of the broader political factors and conflict dynamics at play has entrenched rather than alleviated the harshly dichotomous nature of the peace-justice debate. There is a need to see the forest for the trees.

So what, if anything, have we learned about the ICC’s impact on conflict resolution and peace-building? In this brief article, I would like to assess some of the challenges confronting a more accurate and nuanced understanding of the ICC’s effects on peace and then offer some thoughts stemming from my own research on the peace-justice debate, recently published in a book entitled ‘Justice in Conflict – The Effects of the International Criminal Court’s Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace’.

There is no doubt that the International Criminal Court is a unique entity. It is, at once, both an international organization, whose existence and operations depend on the support of states, and an international court with a mandate to pursue justice for the worst crimes known to humankind. As such, it treads — often uncomfortably — at the nexus between politics and law. Its staff insist that the Court’s involvement in conflict situations are merely an expression of its legal mandate. It does not practice politics. This position plays down the controversial role of the Security Council in issuing highly-politicized referrals of situations to the ICC in response to breaches of the peace — most notably by prohibiting the ICC from investigating citizens of non-member states, of which there are three on the Council (China, Russia, and the US). This mantra also lies at the heart of how the professionals that make up the ICC see their role in contributing to peace. Former chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and current Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda have insisted that there must be a division of labour between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit peace. The Court is responsible for the former; other institutions, like the United Nations Security Council, are responsible for the latter. At the same time, however, they insist that there cannot be a credible or durable peace without justice and that, in cases in which the ICC has influenced a peace process, as in northern Uganda, its impacts have been positive. This contradictory posture — that peace is none of the ICC’s business, but peace is impossible without the Court — belies a significant problem: no one in the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) or any other organ of the Court systematically assesses the institution’s impact on peace processes.

To those who view international criminal justice processes as having a role to play in atrocity responses and prevention, it remains frustrating that the ICC itself does no stock-taking of the impact it has on the conflicts in which it intervenes. As a result, whatever the ICC learns from its previous interventions depends wholly on the feedback it receives from third-parties — diplomats, NGOs, and academics. The Court’s staff may argue that this is not part of their mandate. However, this is a spurious claim. The ICC consistently speaks of its indispensability in establishing peace. It also regularly creates roles for itself outside of its strictly judicial purview, such as strengthening the ability of domestic judiciaries to prosecute international crimes themselves.

Another possible reason for the Court’s reluctance to stock-take its impacts is likely to be that the institution doesn’t have sufficient resources to dedicate to such stock-taking. This too is unsatisfactory. If resources are the problem, the Court can and should push for additional funding from member-states. There is nothing costlier to the legitimacy of the Court than repeating mistakes and feeding the acrimony of those who believe the ICC has no place operating in ongoing conflict situations in the first place. Learning how the Court affects conflict and peace processes isn’t just about making peace more likely or justice less disruptive; it also holds the promise of making the pursuit of accountability more effective and efficient.

There is also a danger in relying on third parties to understand how the ICC affects peace and conflict processes, namely that it permits the avoidance of inconvenient truths by fostering a cherry-picking attitude to evidence. Much research on the peace-justice debate continues to occlude rather than elucidate the effects of the ICC. This is true of studies that critique the Court’s ability to contribute positively to conflict resolution and peace as well as those that seek to lend credence to the Court’s virtues.

Many of the ICC’s critics often recycle intuitive but speculative claims, insisting that any and all targets of the ICC will inevitably “dig their heels in” and have little choice but to fight to the bitter death. In doing so, these detractors reduce all actor types — heads of state, senior officials, rebel commanders, militia leaders, and the various rank-and-file — to the same, basic set of incentives towards the ICC and resolving the war in which they act as belligerents.  Reducing complex and different types of actors risks severely over-simplifying the psychology and incentives of warring parties. A rebel leader like Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army is not the same kind of actor as Muammar Gaddafi, the former head of state of Libya. Yet critics assume that they follow precisely the same logic: if the all-mighty ICC targets them, they will fight to the death and never agree to peace. Continue reading

Posted in "Peace versus Justice" Debate, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Justice, Peace Negotiations, Peace Processes, Peacebuilding | 4 Comments

Cutting Through the Noise – The African Group for Justice and Accountability on the ICC-Africa Relationship

(Photo: ICFR)

(Photo: ICFR)

The relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and African states is coming under renewed scrutiny at the 27th African Union Summit, currently taking place in Kigali, Rwanda. The outcome of the summit for ICC-African relations will be determined over the coming weeks, but various civil society actors and pro-ICC advocates have been doing whatever they can to improve the relationship between the Court and continent. The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA)* is one of those groups. Over the weekend, the AGJA published an important and balanced op-ed in The Guardian (as well as other news outlets) on its view of the ICC-Africa relationship. The op-ed acknowledges the leadership of African states on matters of justice for mass atrocities and insists that all sides can do a better job and need to take responsibility for accountability on the continent. Moreover, it calls those African states who insist they support the ICC to stand up and speak up. For those interested, here’s a snippet:

In popular accounts, Africa and the international criminal court are pitted against each other. The ICC is derided as being “biased” against Africa, ignorant of the attitudes and desires of Africans, even neocolonial.

In reality, the relationship suffers from misinformation and misunderstandings. Many parties share responsibility for this. Some African leaders have, on occasion, decried the ICC in order to protect themselves from the court’s scrutiny.

Equally, the ICC has not been able to communicate its message effectively on the continent, leaving it susceptible to misrepresentation by those who seek to undermine the institution.

Some insist that the ICC has no place in Africa and that African states must withdraw from the court because the institution has intervened primarily in African conflicts, while situations outside the continent are not investigated. However, it makes little sense to suggest that because justice cannot be served everywhere, justice should not be served anywhere. Such an attitude insults victims and survivors alike.

Why has the ICC focused its investigations almost exclusively on Africa? Well, can anyone argue that the situations in Africa where the court has opened official investigations – northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Sudan, Kenya,Libya, Ivory Coast and Mali – are not deserving of an ICC intervention?

Never before has so much been done on the African continent to achieve accountability for international crimes. We welcome the trial of Hissène Habré in Senegal, Central African Republic’s plan to set up a special criminal court, South Sudan’s proposed hybrid tribunal, and the expansion of the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include international crimes.

While none is perfect in itself, these and other recent developments point to a continent with the potential to take a leadership role in international criminal justice, if its leaders keep their pledges.

The ICC must do a better job of responding to overt attempts to politicise its mandate. It must not only do justice, but be seen to be doing justice by being more effective, robust and responsive.

African states are friends of the ICC. African states have continued to refer situations to the ICC. Africans hold the most senior positions in the court. African states fund the institution.

Many African officials and diplomats say they have no intention of leaving the Rome statute system. We call on these governments to speak loudly and courageously in the fight against impunity – both in Africa and beyond.

You can read the whole op-ed, here.

* Full Disclosure: I am the Research Director of the Wayamo Foundation, which acts as the secretariat for the AGJA.

Posted in Africa, Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA), African Union (AU), International Criminal Court (ICC) | 1 Comment

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the International Criminal Court, But Were Too Afraid to Ask

ICC complementarityPerhaps you’re a journalist with an unfortunate penchant for referring to the ICC as “the World Court” (sorry, that’s the ICJ) or suggesting that it will hear cases related to decades-ago atrocities (nope, temporal jurisdiction is a thing). Or maybe you’re a student with a term paper to write on how international institutions affect conflict dynamics (nobody knows). Possibly you just wish you could impress your friends with snarky complementarity-themed jokes (which everyone definitely, definitely loves).

If any of these sound like you, the International Center for Transitional Justice has your back. Their new “Handbook on Complementarity” provides, as advertised, a comprehensive (>100 pages!) overview of the role of the ICC and domestic courts in prosecuting atrocity crimes. It’s also a surprisingly good read.

Written by Paul Seils, the Handbook goes ALL IN on the nitty gritty of how complementarity is designed to operate and how the ICC has implemented it so far. Even for relatively well-informed court-watchers, there’s new information. I learned, for instance, that although the prosecutor ordinarily has to wait until the investigation phase to take testimony, in “exceptional cases” where future access to a witness is threatened, she can request authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber to take testimony during the preliminary examination. Neat! (That’s Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence for those of you following along at home.)

I also discovered that I have been promulgating an inadequate definition of complementarity. (Sorry everyone!) Check it:

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 5.02.38 PMIn fact, per the Trial Chamber in the Katanga case, the question of whether a case is admissible before the ICC requires a two-stage inquiry: The initial question is whether a national jurisdiction is pursuing the same case as the ICC. It’s only if the answer is yes that the issue of “willing and able” comes up. So I guess we’re all going to have to rewrite our lectures.

A couple of broader themes worth highlighting emerge from this bonanza of information:

  1. If you think “is a national jurisdiction pursuing the same case as the ICC” sounds like a simple question, you’re very, very wrong. The meaning of “case” in this context turns out to be a bit of a fraught question, and to have kind of a weird, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle flavor to it. As a definitional matter, for something to be the same case, it must cover the same suspects, incidents, and conduct. But those elements can remain in flux through several rounds of ICC proceedings. Consequently, a state may be disadvantaged by challenging admissibility before charges are confirmed.
  2. One of the effects of the court’s relative youth, along with its resource and jurisdictional constraints, is that anomalous cases can have outsize precedential effect. (And frankly, they’re all pretty anomalous at this point.) With such a limited docket, every ruling provides an important signal about what the court might do in the future. So, for example: “Many people might feel that if the Colombian peace process successfully establishes a justice program with very light sentences that other countries will be able to cite it as a precedent in the future, thus undermining the aims of the ICC.” I am one of these people, and I suspect this is exactly what would happen.

Continue reading

Posted in Complementarity, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice | 3 Comments

Updated: What We Know (and Don’t Know) About Saif Gaddafi’s ‘Release’

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, attends a trial hearing in a courtroom in Zintan in May 2014 (Photo: Reuters / Stringer)

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, attends a trial hearing in a courtroom in Zintan in May 2014 (Photo: Reuters / Stringer)

Where in the world is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi? Rumours about his whereabouts and the circumstances he faces have been swirling for weeks. Saif, the former heir-apparent to his father’s rule over Libya, faces an indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for inciting violence during the 2011 Libyan civil war. But he hasn’t been heard from in months. Until last week — well, sort of. 

Last month, lawyers purporting to represent Saif held a press conference in The Hague demanding that the ICC drop its case against their client. They insisted that Saif couldn’t be put on trial at the Court because he had already been prosecuted — and sentenced to death — in a Libyan court; the principle of double jeopardy, they argued, precluded another trial at the ICC. But there’s a glitch: it remains unclear that the lawyers, which include highly respected defence counsel at the ICC, Karim Khan, have spoken with Saif, have met him, or have power of attorney to represent Saif before the Court. But then, yesterday, a bombshell report was published in France 24 suggesting that Saif has been granted freedom for the last three months:

The former Libyan dictator’s second son “was given his liberty on April 12, 2016”, lawyer Karim Khan said Wednesday, adding that Saif al-Islam was released under an amnesty previously declared by the Tobruk parlement, the internationally recognised authority that governed part of Libya before the national unity government of Fayez al-Sarraj took over in March. According to the lawyer, this release was made “in accordance with (Libyan) law”.

Khan declined to say whether he had spoken to his client, saying only that he “is well and safe and in Libya”.

Marcel Ceccaldi, another lawyer claiming to represent Saif with Khan, has claimed to have spoken with Saif (although it’s not clear when) and insists he is not in detention in Zintan. In another twist to this curious story, Ceccaldi is close with far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. He claims that Saif is out of prison. Ceccaldi added that Saif has told him he wants to “contribute to the political unification of Libya” and the “fight against terrorism” in Libya.

If true, this would be an astounding development. Not only would this mean that Saif has been “free” for three months but that he — unlike the vast majority of other senior Gaddafi loyalists — has been issued an amnesty. It would also show curious cooperation between the powerful Zintani militia and a government which it doesn’t recognize.

It also seems difficult to fathom that no one on the ground, i.e. in Libya itself, has been willing to report on his freedom or verify Saif’s status for this entire period of time. Indeed, if reports are true, for three months, every actor – the militia, the government, international actors on the ground, Saif’s apparent legal team, and Saif himself – has had an incentive to keep Saif’s circumstances quiet. And, in this scenario, it was an ICC lawyer who may or may not be in contact with Saif, who broke the news – and a three month old secret – to the world.

Some are now reporting this veil of silence is lifting. Stephen has said (on Twitter) that there may be a press conference in Tripoli as early as this evening regarding Saif’s situation. While it’s doubtful that Saif would be present, a press conference in Tripoli would be astounding in its own right.

Now, however, BBC has reported that senior Zintani officials have denied that Saif is free and questioned the motives of Khan in saying he was liberated:

This is a rumour that has been plaguing Zintan for months. This will not be the last time, I do not understand the motive of this lawyer.

Reuters has also reported that a military official in Zintan has denied Saif is free: “We deny that Saif Islam has been released,” the source said.

Still, there may not be much difference between saying that Saif has not been “released” and what exactly, others mean by Saif’s “liberty”. It seems impossible that Saif is able to do what he wants or that he is able to move freely. He is very likely still in Zintan. Had he moved anywhere else and managed to avoid being killed, he would have been recognized and his movements surely reported. Instead, the Zintani militia, which has held Saif in its custody since November 2011, has likely granted Saif some form of limited freedom. Perhaps he has a private home from which he can speak to members of his family; perhaps he can move around Zintan and its outskirts (although you’d think someone, in three months, would snap a cellphone pic if he was out-and-about); perhaps he can entertain some guests and has started a romantic relationship (Mary Fitzerald has tweeted that “in April a Zintani colonel claimed… [Saif] was more under ‘house arrest’ & had married, had child.” But much more “freedom” than that still makes little sense. Continue reading

Posted in Libya, Libya and the ICC, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Let’s Avoid Politicizing the Genocide Against Yazidis


Yazidi refugees present United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie with a banner as she arrived at a refugee camp in southern Turkey (Photo: Umit Bektas / Reuters)

There is no doubt that genocidal acts have been perpetrated against the Yazidi people by the Islamic State (ISIS). A recent report by United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria has given credence to political declarations in the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and elsewhere that ISIS is waging a campaign to exterminate the Yazidis. ISIS’s particular brand of violent and radical Islam is unambivalent in its zeal to destroy groups that stand in its way of building an Islamic caliphate. Not only has ISIS committed unspeakable atrocities against Yazidi people, but it has clearly articulated its intent to exterminate them. But not every way of recognizing a genocide is equally appropriate. Over the last week, Canada witnessed one of the most unhelpful approaches towards recognizing that ISIS is genocidal. To avoid such fiascos in the future, the Canadian government — as well as other states seeking a role in mass atrocity prevention and prosecution — should establish its own International Justice Ambassador.

It is worth reviewing what transpired in Ottawa two weeks ago. The Conservative Party, backed by the New Democrats, introduced a motion in the House of Commons to officially recognize that ISIS’s violence against the Yazidis, Christians, and Shias in northern Iraq constituted genocide. The Conservatives provided no evidence for such a finding. They provided no definition of genocide. They referred to no reports nor any investigations. Their ultimate claim, it seems, was to ensure that Canada did what the UK and the US Secretary of State John Kerry had already done— i.e. give ISIS’ crimes the “g-word” treatment, and call their violence a genocide.

After an acrimonious and dramatic debate, the Liberals, with the exception of four MPs, rejected the Conservative motion. The Liberals (rightly) insisted that the House of Commons was not the appropriate place to determine whether the crimes amounted to genocide. In doing so, they did what UK Prime Minister David Cameron had advised British officials to do when he exclaimed that “Not only are the courts best placed to judge criminal matters but their impartiality also ensures the protection of the UK government from the politicisation and controversies that often attach themselves to the question of genocide.”

Remarkably, the very same Conservatives who put forward the bill guaranteed that the vote would fail. A few minutes of research would have revealed that the UN Commission of Inquiry in Syria was on the verge of announcing that the atrocities amounted to genocide. Moreover, any due diligence (i.e. vote counting) would have made clear that the Conservatives would lose the vote with the motion worded as it was. They proceeded anyways. To top it off, at the same time, the Conservatives provided no clear sense of what a finding of genocide would mean or require of Canada. Would they call the UN Security Council to refer Syria and Iraq to the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It seems unlikely, given their mistrust of international criminal justice and the fact that, under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives were the last Western government to put their support behind such a referral, one which would have allowed the ICC to investigate and prosecute allegations of genocide against the Yazidis.

The obvious conclusion — and a rather grotesque one — is that the Conservatives wanted the vote to fail in order to gain some political brownie points at the expense of the Liberals — and, sadly, the victims of ISIS atrocities. Not to be outdone, however, when they lost the vote, the Conservative MPs grovelled at the bottom of the political barrel, posting a poll on Twitter to determine whether ISIS crimes amounted to genocide.

The very same week and following the UN Commission of Inquiry report (which reported that ISIS was committing genocide against Yazidis but not other groups, including Christian minorities), Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion told the House that the government would recognize that the atrocities being committed by ISIS constituted a genocide. A Liberal motion introduced in the House also stated that “the government of Canada [would] continue its efforts to have these atrocities properly investigated and, where appropriate, referred to the International Criminal Court to formally determine the existence of genocide and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice”. Canada is now leading diplomatic efforts to push the United Nations Security Council to mandate a commission to investigate ISIS crimes.   Continue reading

Posted in Canada, Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), Genocide, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Justice Ambassador, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Syria, Terrorism, UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States, Yazidi Genocide | Tagged | 11 Comments

It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

One of the communications staff suspended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is now threatening to sue the New York Times (Photo: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters)

One of the communications staff suspended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is now threatening to sue the New York Times (Photo: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters)

The Kenya – New York Times saga continues. For those of who haven’t had a chance to follow, here’s a recap:

  • The New York Times published a scathing article and critique of the International Criminal Court’s intervention in Kenya (see here for some highlights and my thoughts on the piece). It was particularly critical of the role of former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and the cases against senior members of the Kenyan government — cases which, as readers will know, ultimately all collapsed.
  • The office of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (who was among those charged by the ICC but eventually had his case dismissed), released a statement in which it claimed that described the New York Times’ article as “vindictive and unprofessional”. It further asserted that the author, James Verini, did not reach out to the government for its side of the story.
  • In response, the New York Times published a statement in the Kenyan media, defending its story, refusing to apologize, and insisting that the government was given every opportunity to contribute to the piece — but declined or ignored requests to do so.
  • While President Kenyatta is on an official visit to Botswana, he “suspended” four members of his communications staff, apparently as a result of their initial response to the New York Times’ piece. Dennis Itumbi, one of the suspended members of Kenyatta’s communications staff, tweeted that they “were fired because they told off a paper that claimed President Uhuru bribed witnesses.”

That brings us to today. Kenyan media is reporting that Itumbi is threatening to sue the New York Times. Itumbi, Kenyatta’s director of digital innovations and diaspora communications, was named in Verini’s account as someone who had been “investigated (though not charged)” by the ICC over alleged witness interference. In its defence of Verini’s exposé, the New York Times insisted that “Itumbi’s investigation by the International Criminal Court is a matter of public record. As Verini’s article notes, he was not charged.” Now, according The Star, Itumbi is seeking legal action against the Times:

Dennis Itumbi has given the New York Times a seven-day ultimatum for an apology over remarks in an article about the President’s ICC case…

…He asked the media house to apologise or face a defamation suit over making references to him in the article, saying he was not interviewed.

In a letter to the media house on Thursday, Itumbi’s lawyers said the “offending words” were false since their client was not interrogated on any subject.

“You did not contact our client to comment on the issue contrary to your assertions. Your publication was therefore malicious and part of your sustained policy and your self-serving vendetta,” said lawyer Moses Chelanga.

Chelanga said the publication was calculated to disparage and injure Itumbi’s reputation and cause him scandal, odium and contempt in his personal capacity.

He said the Times portrayed Itumbi as one who interfered with the ICC witnesses protection programme.

He also said the media house made it seem the former director “exposed ICC witnesses; killed, abducted and enforced disappearance of ICC witnesses; bribed ICC witnesses; interfered with administration of justice; sabotaged the situation of the Republic of Kenya in the ICC [and] is corrupt.”

The lawyer said his client’s reputation and status as a long-standing public servant have been seriously damaged.

“He has suffered considerable distress and embarrassment to himself, his career, his calling, and his family,” said Chelanga.

Continue reading

Posted in Kenya, Kenya and the ICC | Tagged , | 5 Comments