SKeyes: International Justice, STL and Al-Akhbar

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

The conference sponsored by the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKeyes) at the Riviera Hotel will run for three days. (Photo: Haytham Al-Moussawi)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Saturday, January 19, 2013

This past Friday, 18 January 2013, Nabila Hamza made the opening remarks at the Beirut conference “Media Coverage of International Justice.” The president of the Foundation for the Future described some of the symptoms afflicting the Arab world: “the distortion of facts”; “the lack of independent media”; and “a weak legal culture.” Overall, this amounts to a “media failure.”

The conference, sponsored by the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKeyes) at the Riviera Hotel will run for three days. “The conference is not focused on the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” explained SKeyes executive director Ayman Mhanna. “It is meant to build capacities in the media to cover all kinds of international tribunals.”

But remarkably, none of Friday’s sessions touched on the issue of professional development for journalists, especially in terms of honing critical thinking skills, since they are otherwise responsible for exposing any breaches of public trust by said tribunals.

Indeed, international tribunals are not infallible; they are built on equally fallible systems that may suffer from loopholes and ambiguities. One implication is that journalists must be well-versed on how to look for those irregularities.

The conference will host a total of nine sessions, yet none of them will address how to scrutinize the work of international tribunals.

On Saturday, three sessions will seek to tackle issues like legal terminology, sources and resources on international justice, and print media coverage of international justice.
Then on Sunday, the final sessions will focus on video coverage of international crimes, international justice and social media, and finally, the protection of the presumption of innocence and impartial coverage of international justice.

Many of the speakers at Friday’s sessions drew attention to the similarities between the STL and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Nerma Jelacic, head of communications for the ICTY, said that the Yugoslavia tribunal had come under some sharp criticism, many of the allegations baseless. But, she would never claim that the tribunal was perfect.

According to Jelacic, the tribunal had up to 6,000 witnesses and dealt with millions of documents, including intelligence reports which were presented as criminal evidence. Moreover, she said, some of the identities of witnesses under protection were leaked, in addition to information about physical evidence.

As a result, journalists and lawyers were prosecuted. Some received court sentences, bearing in mind that the maximum penalty for such violations is seven years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Euros.

During the first session as well, a “personal” criticism was addressed at Al-Akhbar, after the newspaper published the details of some STL witnesses, as this has allegedly “jeopardized their safety.”

Personal because Marten Youssef, official spokesperson for the STL, expressed only his opinion about Al-Akhbar’s move, without ever mentioning the legal measures that may be taken against the newspaper.

This is despite the fact that there is a clear clause in the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence (Rule 60 bis) which refers to prosecuting all those who disclose information that is supposed to remain confidential, because doing so is deemed interference in the judicial process.

Youssef said that he believes that Al-Akhbar’s move to publish the names and details of the witnesses was the result of “irresponsible journalism,” and added, “I am a bit passionate about this. It has provoked me on a personal and professional level.”

Youssef repeated his direct attacks on many occasions against Al-Akhbar during the conference. By contrast, Walid Kassir (brother of the late Samir Kassir) was keen on not naming the newspaper, and only referred to it as being “a media outlet.”

For his part, SKeyes executive director Mhanna told Al-Akhbar on the sidelines of the conference, “The Foundation organizes the conference, but does not endorse all the views expressed within it.” When asked whether he thought the STL functioned properly, he said, “I will not answer this question because my answer would only be a personal opinion.”

MP Marwan Hamadeh, a victim of an assassination attempt that was included in the STL’s jurisdiction, gave remarks at the event as well, and said, “The freedom of the press may sometimes amount to murder,” in reference to the potential harm caused by publishing witness’ identities.

Hamadeh failed to mention the other media outlets that had published information about witnesses and other individuals involved in the case, and singled out Al-Akhbar for criticism. Also recall that a Western media outlet had published an official and classified document issued by international investigators, which named a Lebanese officer who was subsequently assassinated.

In truth, Al-Akhbar had already disclosed the identity of a STL witness a few months ago, and yet, no legal action was taken against it at the time.

Finally, Rule 60 bis mentioned above states the following: “The Tribunal, in the exercise of its inherent power, may hold in contempt those who knowingly and wilfully interfere with its administration of justice, upon assertion of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction according to the Statute. This includes […] any person who: discloses information relating to proceedings in knowing violation of an order of the Pre-Trial Judge or a Chamber.”

Nashabe, the STL and Al-Akhbar

On 21 December 2012, the president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge David Baragwaneth, ruled that the Defense Office may procure the services of Omar Nashabe. Accordingly, the Defense Office notified Nashabe of its desire to hire him and he replied in kind.

Although the contract has yet to reach Nashabe, he has suspended his journalistic role as of the afternoon of Friday, 18 January 2013. Nashabe is therefore not accountable for what Al-Akhbar publishes except for his last article above.

Furthermore, Nashabe was not apprised of what was published on the witnesses in Al-Akhbar last week, nor of what shall be published on this topic today.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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