Correspondent Wins Appeal in U.N. Subpoena Cast
In a landmark decision, the UN appeals court determined that war correspondents should be granted limited exemption from forced testimony in a UN war crimes trial.
The ruling means that Randal, 63, will not be subpoenaed to testify in the U.N.’s proceedings against Radovan Brdjanin, a Bosnian Serb official whom Randal interviewed for the Washington Post in 1993.
The five appellate judges said it was in the public’s interest to protect war correspondents since they “play[ed] a vital role in bringing to the attention of the international community the horrors and reality of conflict.”
In order for the tribunal to subpoena war correspondents to testify, it must first determine that their testimony was of “direct and important value” to the case and that the information “cannot reasonably be obtained elsewhere,” the appeals court said in its decision.
The court further cautioned UN prosecutors to “apply those principles in the particular circumstances of the case should the court be seized of the matter again.”
The ruling — believed to set an international precedent for war crimes cases — distinguished that its ruling pertained specifically to “war correspondents,” defined as “individuals who, for any period of time, report (or investigate for the purposes of reporting) from a conflict zone on issues relating to the conflict.”
Randal’s lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, called the decision “a great boon for reporters.”
Randal appealed a tribunal subpoena last August, saying that his testimony was not “critical to determining the guilt or innocence” of Radovan Brdjanin, an ex-Bosnian Serb deputy prime minister on trial for the persecution and expulsion of more than 100,000 Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian war.
Thirty-four international news organizations joined in Randal’s appeal, asking the court to grant journalists “limited privilege” from testifying to safeguard them from possible retaliation. The media companies said that if journalists were perceived as potential witnesses, their safety while working in conflict zones would be jeopardized and the integrity of their professional work could be undermined.
“We’re delighted. This is I think a really important decision for journalism and international law,” Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll told the Associated Press.
In its decision, the appeals court agreed with Randal’s argument, noting “the potential impact upon the newsgathering function and safety of war correspondents as submitted by [Randal and supporting media organizations] is great.”
“War correspondents may shift from being observers of those committing human rights violations to being their targets, thereby putting their own lives at risk,” the court said.