Covering Africa in The Hague


Non-profit organisations are increasingly filling the growing gap in watchdog journalism, one created in large part because many a traditional news outlet is keeping its reporters on an increasingly short leash, doling out only paltry resources for investigative journalism.

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, for example, has been covering the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since it began. On many days, IWPR staff say, they are the only reporters present at the tribunal.

The IWPR began as a media development charity with its origins in reporting the 1991 crimes against humanity throughout the Balkans.

On 2 April, it celebrated its new Dutch branch in the statehouse of The Hague. The IWPR now consists of four separate non-profits, in the United States, London and South Africa.

The five employees in the Dutch office, which has been operational in the Hague for more than a year but only recently formalized its status as a Dutch non-profit, spend most of their time on a two-year project in Africa involving the International Criminal Court.

The Rome Statute, to which 100 states are a party, was ratified in 2002. It’s roots lie both in the ICTY and ICTR as well as the Nuremberg Trials which followed the Second World War.

The Dutch-based reporting project involving the ICC, the Southern Africa Good Governance and Media Development Programme, focuses on international justice issues, related to ICC activities. In February, for example, IWPR reporter Katy Glassborow, who is based in the Hague, reported about legal questions surrounding the case of an ICC detainee who was previously acquitted by Congolese courts.

IWPR reporters work from The Hague and in the field, which is in this case Africa. Glassborow’s colleague Lisa Clifford is presently organising trainings for mid-career journalists in the Congo and Sudan.

There are various challenges, language among them.

In Sudan, Clifford said, the IWPR has to tread particularly lightly – if they can get visas, which is an ongoing struggle – and train reporters on the basics of court reporting. Delving into procedures and the workings of the ICC, as is done at other trainings, would be dangerous in Sudan, Clifford said, because the ICC is not especially a popular topic.

Training journalists on how to report about the ICC has gone hand in hand with working in appropriate media. The IWPR has found that the best medium for reaching Africans is radio, Clifford said, so training is done in large part for radio. To that end, part of the IWPR’s Dutch-based efforts will include possible partnership with Radio Netherlands.

The Dutch office also works to help African journalists come to The Hague for “internships” of various lengths. They recently hosted a Ugandan journalist for three months, Clifford said.

She and Glassborow, both English, have backgrounds in reporting for traditional media outlets, like the BBC. The IWPR’s credibility seems to stem in large part from its journalistic approach to ethical research and reporting.

The IWPR quotes prominent Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power recognizing the growing importance of sound non-profit reporting on the “about” section of its website.

“The IWPR fills a critical gap by helping local journalists to focus on human rights and justice issues,” Power said. “In the process, it contributes to democratic transitions, and demonstrates that the best war reporting is not about military conflict, but human consequences”