FP Passport’s Poor Reporting on the ICC (Edited)

by Kevin Jon Heller

I expect sloppy reporting from the traditional media, but not from the normally excellent FP Passport. So I was surprised to read the following in a post by Michael Wilkerson implying that the ICC has accomplished almost nothing:

But with so much scorn and a suspect arrested for only one of its outstanding warrants — former Congo rebel commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo — the ICC needs help if it is to accomplish its mission of discouraging impunity…. To preserve the ICC’s relevance, the trial of Gombo will need to go very well, and some sort of progress will be needed on the Bashir case. What are the odds either of these will happen?

As the page to which Wilkerson links makes clear — and as anyone even passingly acquainted with the ICC’s work knows — Bemba is one of four suspects in custody; the others are Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui from the DRC. (Bahr Idriss Abu Garda from the Sudan voluntarily appeared in request to a summons and is free until his next hearing.)  And, of course, Lubanga’s trial is already underway, whereas Bemba’s case is still at the pre-trial stage.

Wilkerson also references the Pre-Trial Chamber’s rejection of the genocide charges against Bashir without noting that the Chamber recently granted leave to appeal the Article 58 issue. That was obviously a deliberate omission on Wilkerson’s part — intended to make the OTP look as bad as possible — given that the Reuters article to which Wilkerson links specifically mentions the appeal.

FP Passport should really do better. The ICC has enough problems without having to deal with ones invented by journalists.

P.S. I know this sounds nitpicky, but I think it’s revealing that Wilkerson refers to “Gombo.” The ICC — and everyone else — almost always refers to him as “Bemba” or “Bemba Gombo.” Someone who follows the Court closely enough to credibly criticize it would know that.


5 Responses

  1. Kevin, I think that your expertise and depth of familiarity with the ICC leads you sometimes to be oversensitive to the errors and omissions of others.

    If you are going to accuse him of bad faith, deliberate ill-will towards the court and of conducting a campaign against the court, you should at least do this explicitly. 

    Isn’t it at least possible that he simply didn’t read the Reuters article very carefully, which would be irresponsible and sloppy but not malicious? And there is a case to make that for non-legal geek purposes, the ICC is making painfully slow progress.

    That might substantiate your point about his qualifications to credibly criticise, but the ICC is in fact now a part of the international political structure. As such it is ‘validly’ criticised by nearly anyone who cares to, the question is more of the ICC’s image and media skills than of the ‘credibility’ of the critic.

    Finally, his broader point is also at least in part valid and credible. If the years continue to slip away with more headlines about Ocampo than about actual arrests and, most importantly, convictions, the ICC will come to be seen more and more as a petty and irrelevant institution. That won’t be irreversible nor universal, but however unfortunate, it seems likely enough. With that will go funding, first and foremost, then the calibre of lawyer attached, and soon enough another ICT[insert here] because the ICC won’t be seen as credible/effective/expedient enough for a particular case.

  2. Professor Heller,

    I know this also sounds nitpicky, but Mr. Abu Garda is not in the Court’s custody.  He’s a free man until October.

  3. Mark,

    You are absolutely right, of course.  I should have been more accurate.

  4. I don’t think is being “oversensitive to the errors and omissions of others”. Wether it was malicious or not, the fact is that the article was an example of the too frequently sloppy & uninformed reporting about the ICC from American media.

  5. Patrick,

    I could not disagree more with your comment.  I believe that Prof. Heller´s “oversensitive” advocacy is well needed.
    While errors and omissions are of course human, they are less tolerable when they come from sources that have authority, reputation, and well, some sort of impact. And misinformation is damaging whether it was intended or not.
    It is the role of academics or any concerned person to clarify those errors, and engage in a debate to further the knowledge of all, or anyone.
    So I find  your defence for the FM Passport  not more “sensitive” than the motivation leading to this very direct and explicit post by Professor Heller.

    As a reader constantly looking for information, I appreciate these corrections that make evident the lack of professionalism or inexperience (because they just decide to write a blog after simply reading an article, and well, not reading it well!) that lead to ignorance. While divergent opinions are of course always interesting and useful, mistakes of fact that are readily available to anyone willing to spend more than 5 minutes researching about what they will write about should be subjected to accountability by the readers… especially when the case in point is supporting a system of international justice for the benefit of victims who today in many regions of the world suffer from the crimes the ICC was created to prevent and prosecute (by the way, with the help of States, those very same that fail to enforce the arrest warrants the ICC has issued…..)

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