Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome and thank you for being here. It is indeed heart-warming to see your strong interest in Transitional and International Criminal Justice issues which are at the very heart of our national discourse.
I would also like to appreciate TrustAfrica for organizing this important training. This is further evidence of the potential impact that could be generated by cooperation between States and Civil Society Organisations. I would most importantly like to thank, H.E Ambassador Theo Peter, for being present today and the Kingdom of the Netherlands for supporting this great initiative.
Today marks the beginning of a 5-day training on Transitional and International Criminal Justice for Journalists. Journalism has very often been referred to as the ‘Fourth Estate”, a recognition of the crucial role the media plays in a democratic society. The media throughout modern history has played a crucial role in upholding free speech and protecting democratic practices.
Today’s gathering however calls us to look beyond the media’s traditional role as a conduit for information, a stimulator of public debate and a tool of accountability, and focus on its role in the context of conflict or political upheaval and post conflict situations.
The media has a major role to play both during and after conflict. They have the potential to prevent conflict, and ease social tensions but can also fan the ambers of conflict. One cannot soon forget the role played by the media in the Rwandan conflict, through the incitement of genocide by RTLM.
We have also been witness to a greater extent on how the media can and often is a force for good, be it through the brave acts of reporting on the excesses of a tyrannical government even in the face of suppression, as we witnessed in The Gambia over the past years, or exposing the barbaric realities of a conflict to drive international intervention as we witnessed in Sierra Leone during the civil war.
In societies emerging from conflict or political upheaval, the priority is always to offer redress, ensure sustainable peace, the respect of the rule of law, reform of institutions and the prevention of reoccurrence. This combined approached has over time evolved to what is now known internationally as Transitional Justice. Unfortunately, while the role of state institutions and transitional justice mechanisms have been widely explored, the important role of the media to a large extent still remains uncharted territory. This is why a training such as this is key in adding value to the current transitional justice processes.
The concept of transitional justice has very often adopted a two-pronged approach of restorative vs retributive justice. In both approaches journalists play a central role; In the restorative context, post conflict societies are very often highly polarized, with different narratives and opinions of the events that marked the conflict or upheaval. The role of transitional justice mechanisms and indeed truth commissions would ultimately be to attempt to re-construct an objective account of the societies repressive or violent past. In this regard, the media has the potential to play a role in not only disseminating crucial information but in also creating a dedicated space where previously perceived narratives could be discussed and re-aligned with the updated accurate and historically factual data.
In the retributive context, as societies move towards punishing those most responsible for the violence and repression, Journalists play a major role in investigating and revealing allegations of abuse and cruelty. In fact, it is worthy of note that in almost every major prosecution of International Crimes, the information uncovered by investigative journalists has helped document historical abuses which in turn has served as a reliable resource during investigations.
In both contexts, journalists play a primordial role of ensuring accountability, through reporting on transitional justice initiatives, and closely following up to ensure adherence to procedure. In this role, the media takes on greater responsibility as the public instinctively turns to it for clarification, and at times even for direction Transitional justice processes inevitably rely on the media to reach their goals of disseminating the truth about a dark period of a country’s history. Certainly, given the central role that the media plays in disseminating information and shaping public opinion, it is inevitable that the media would also influence the public’s impression of the work of transitional justice mechanisms. As a result, there is an urgent need for structured cooperation between institutions and media, beyond just the realisation that the media is a potent tool in the dissemination of information on activities but also as a shaper of public opinion.
If the objective of the transitional justice process is to impact people’s lives for the better, the media’s role in sharing information and shaping public debate and discourse must be intentionally incorporated from the very beginning. We have done so in The Gambia with the training of over 50 journalists in our own TJ process. A deeper understanding of the very concept of transitional justice and the inner workings of the international justice system is no doubt essential to the efficient execution of this role.
It is my believe that this training, which could not have come at a better time, will not only broaden the scope of knowledge on the concept of Transitional Justice, and International Criminal Justice, but will also serve as a platform for the sharing of experiences and best practice, and the fostering of cooperation between all stakeholders.
Let me at this point re-state our commitment to working hand in hand with the press and building sustainable partnerships for the protection and advancement of our hard-fought democracy.
To conclude, the role of the media in transitional justice is aptly captured in this extract from a paper by the International Center for Transitional Justice which states:
the media has the potential to bridge the gap between yesterday’s enemies by replacing fearmongering with a focus on empathy, by illustrating how much people have in common and championing victims’ rights to truth and justice.
I wish you a very fruitful training and thank you for your kind attention. I now declare this training open!