Freedom of the Press in a Global Context: Prosecution of Journalists in International Courts and Tribunals

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Uniform Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (UCCPR) are collectively known as the International Bill of Rights.   These documents protect freedom of expression, freedom of the press and other essential human rights. Unfortunately, the International Bill of Rights does not apply to the United Nations including its Courts and Tribunals.   So to some it was not surprising when journalist Florence Hartman was jailed last year by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Hartman, a former Le Monde correspondent and spokesperson for the ICTY wrote a book revealing information which had been hidden from the public.    After the books publication ICTY authorities held a short show trial convicting Hartman of “interfering with the administration of justice”.    She was fined but when she did not pay jail time was imposed and an arrest warrant issued.    Five years later Ms. Hartman was arrested in an ugly incident in The Hague, Netherlands.  Photos taken at the time show her being dragged to the United Nations Detention Facility (UNDF) by prison authorities.–srebrenica-massacre

After ordering Ms. Hartman into solitary confinement in the UNDF, ICTY Judges, in their extreme arrogance, took a holiday.  Thus the decision to keep her in solitary confinement during her jail term remained in force.   Solitary confinement is widely viewed as inhumane  “cruel and unusual” punishment. Democracies like the United States are using it less and less.   This so called UN Human Rights Court locked up a journalist in solitary confinement in a war crimes prison without consequences.

Where does a UN war crimes tribunal derive power to do this?   This is a war crimes tribunal. Trying anyone who is not a war criminal is not within its mandate!

Despite this shocking autocratic power display in the Hartman case a few years later the UN Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL) put journalists on trial for publishing information leaked by the STL prosecutor’s office.   (The STL is a hybrid court set up to try the accused killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.)   All of the accused are at large but the trial proceeds in their absence.   The STL journalist prosecution began secretly in 2014.      Eventually the accused journalists appeared before the STL.  Absurdly those accused of killing the Prime Minister are being tried in absentia but the journalists who “interfered with the administration of justice” were forced to appear in person.

The journalists were convicted and sentence was imposed August 8, 2016.   The short sentencing hearing can be seen here.

Remarkably the gravity of the proceeding is completely lost on the sentencing judge.

This practice, by so called international  “human rights courts” of jailing journalists for “interfering with the administration of justice” whenever the court objects to, or is embarrassed by, publication of material leaked by the prosecution, is disturbing.

While the United Nations International Courts and Tribunals prosecute journalists around the world, United Nations headquarters in New York is threatening reporters who write about internal UN corruption. Resident Inner City Press correspondent Matthew Lee was evicted from his office and physically thrown out of the United Nations building notwithstanding sub-zero temperatures. He was eventually permitted back but remains on restriction with a “minder” following him everywhere.   Over the last 10 years Mr. Lee has been harassed and threatened. As Mr. Lee’s corruption investigation progressed harassment and threats worsened.   Today he is threatened and harassed on a daily basis.

While some countries, including The Netherlands, the site of many international courts and home of the UNDF, have laws protecting the press, these laws do not apply to the United Nations or its courts and tribunals. There is essentially no supervision over these bodies.

This behavior by the international courts and tribunals shows how they operate to deny basic human rights instead of protecting them. These courts must be monitored carefully by the international community and pressed to comply with the basic human rights guarantees enshrined in the UNDHR and UCCPR. Real human rights defenders oppose the UN “behaving as if it were an out of control government with unlimited authority.”

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