Wednesday, October 10, 2007

BBC Trains Journalists in Transitional Justice Reporting

The BBC World Service Trust is training journalists in Sierra Leone on transitional justice reporting.

A 'Discussion Session' was held at the Kimbima Hotel , west of the capital Freetown on October 9.

Editors were urged to give their support in the training programme.

The essence of the training programme is to equip journalists in conflict and post- conflict reporting. Sierra Leone experienced a ten years civil strife that spanned from 1991 to 2001. The 4.9 million population of the coastal West African country were subjected to horrendous experiences that ranged from hacking off of limbs and hands, torture, gang-raping, burning alive summary executions and many atrocities, which were described as the worst in contemporary history. Many of the warring faction leaders including ex-president Charles Taylor of neighbouring Liberia, who was accused of allegedly supporting the Revolutionary United Front rebels, are now on trial at a UN backed court in the capital Freetown.

At Kimbima Hotel on October 9, editors of different newspapers and managers of radio stations met and had a discussion with the BBC World Service Trust Team.

The discussion was moderated by Hassan Arouni, BBC's news presenter. Steven king the director of BBC World Service Trust explained to journalists the mission, vision and strategies of the WSTF.

The Trust uses media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights, supporting transitional justice report training in post-conflict countries and strengthen the media sector through building of professional capacity and infrastructure among other things. The aim of transitional justice reporting is to raise awareness on post-conflict issues.

Peter Anderson the chief of Press and Public Affairs of the Special Court for war crimes in Sierra Leone said, "Lessons have been derived from the war crimes court set up in Rwanda.

'It was discovered that it was very expensive. The Special Court's mandate was therefore different' . During the war, many atrocities were committed. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in Post- war era but many victims yearned for justice.

Anderson said, "Justice can't work in a vacuum. He said the Special Court has been less expensive compared to other courts in Africa. 'We should leave footprints in the legacy of Sierra Leone '. He pointed out the fact that transitional justice cuts across institutions. He urged journalist to cross check facts and on the whole to be objective in their reportage..

Justice Laura Marcus Jones former TRC chairperson told editors that transitional justice involves justice, stability and the rule of law. She underscored the fact that without justice there would be no peace. She stressed that in sustaining peace the independence of the judiciary is a sine qua non. She said the media should not be an instrument of sending hate messages 'and in Sierra Leone the media has not done so. "It is important that the media acts with responsibility', she said.

The president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist Ibrahim Ben Kargbo pointed out that prior to the end of the war, the Lome Peace Accord was signed which among other things, mentioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the obligation of government to implement it. He recalled that during the war journalists took different 'ideological positions'; some preferred a military option to the war while others preferred a diplomatic solution to the war.

He said the Special Court was hailed at the initial stage because it was seen as a vehicle to try perpetrators of war crimes, but later perceptions changed.

He however pointed out that the culture of impunity which prevailed in Sierra Leone had to be stopped.

Julia Crawford of the BBC is the project director and Nesryn is the coordinator. They made initial acquaintance with journalists in the country.

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