Justice, it is often said, needs not just to be done, but to be seen to be done. That is true for common street crime, and no less so for efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the most serious crimes – genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. How can the daily march of criminal process be brought home to the communities where the crimes happened, as well as to interested actors around the world?
When the Open Society Justice Initiative first started monitoring proceedings of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague in 2007, that was our aim – to provide radio, television, and print journalists from the Mano River region with a way of covering the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor without the huge expense of being in the courtroom. We believe we made a difference –the site, which aired a diversity of opinions, became a favorite of many people across the globe with connections to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
When, following completion of the appeal, we finally closed the site in January of this year, one comment stood out: “Your website took the trial of Charles G. Taylor to the peoples of Sierra Leone and Liberia. No amount of words can express my appreciation.”
The coverage, less detailed than a court transcript, but more nuanced than a garden variety news report, also provided journalists, human rights advocates, law students, and diplomats with a way to stay in touch with the trial.
Over the past several years, our efforts to make international justice visible to, and meaningful for, affected populations expanded, with four new monitoring sites to cover trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of, respectively, Thomas Lubanga; Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and Germain Katanga; Jean-Pierre Bemba; and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Joshua arap Sang.
In 2013, when Guatemala tried former head of state Efrain Rios Montt for genocide, we added another site—to keep the international community informed about the swiftly-moving daily proceedings in Guatemala City.
In addition, since before it began operating in 2007, we have been the only international legal organization to maintain a full-time presence in Phnom Penh to monitor developments at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Now we are bringing all these initiatives together in a single place, International Justice Monitor. Those who follow existing trials will still be able to do so and follow new ones as they develop.
But we will offer more.
First, we will when appropriate follow pre-trial proceedings and developing situations that may not have reached the trial stage.
Second, we will bring news and analysis of important events, such as trials of international crimes in certain national courts, or efforts by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute to increase the effectiveness of the ICC.
And third, we will provide a space for informed debate on the state of international justice –open to controversial voices and commentary from across and beyond the Open Society Foundations.
We hope the end result will be a more vibrant debate and a fuller understanding of the mission, the possibilities and the limitations of international justice as a force for accountability, deterrence, and security in a turbulent world.
Please visit www.ijmonitor.org and sign up for regular monitoring and commentary updates.