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Inner City Press Podcast --

Sierra Leone Prosecutor Goes Hat in Hand to a Closed Down BBC, While ICC Stays Off the Record

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- Two faces of the international justice system were on display Friday at UN headquarters, one pursuing publicity and the other trying to prohibit it.

            Charles Taylor's prosecutor Stephen Rapp came to brief the Security Council about the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In the run-up to Mr. Rapp's appearance, a major public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, offered interviews with Mr. Rapp before or after . Wire services throughout Europe were, they say, bombarded by publicity for Mr. Rapp.

            And yet, when the Council briefing ended, there appeared to be no demand. UN Television shut down the stakeout camera and lighting. Mr. Rapp finally emerged, along with the president of the Court, Hon. George Gelaga King. Inner City Press, the only media on the scene, asked Mr. Rapp five questions in five minutes.

            Amplifying on a previous quote that he spends forty percent of his time cap in hand, Mr. Rapp said he spends 40% of this time on the road telling people about the Court.

            But how much cap in hand?

            "Isn't this cap in hand?" Mr. Rapp asked, gesturing back at the Security Council. Inside, the UK's Deputy Ambassador Karen Pierce had announced her country's contribution of $4 million to the Court. As to who is paying for the Hill and Knowlton public relations firm, it is not clear. Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesperson's Office and was provided with some background information, including when the UN provided money to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. But the specifics of this Court's use of an outside P.R. firm could not be ascertained.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Rapp about a quote from Liberian president, and long-time World Bank and UN System insider, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, that "the media is very excited about Mr. Taylor. We just want to leave that era and put it behind us. And we wish the media would do the same." (Macleans).

            "I doubt she said that," Mr. Rapp replied. "In April, she was very happy we were there." Mr. Rapp continued that "Her people don't want Taylor to return."

Stephen Rapp (hat in hand not shown; ICC briefer not shown, see below)

            Inner City Press asked how the Court is publicizing its work in Sierra Leone. Mr. Rapp said that there will still not be streaming video all the time -- as there was for Slobodan Milosevic's trial -- but that the trial's opening, which Taylor boycotts, was shown, as will be the last week of the trial.

            Speaking of television, Mr. Rapp said he needed to go up to the offices of BBC, to appear before 11 p.m. London time. Inner City Press accompanied him upstairs.

            Asked about one Cindor Reeves, also quoted in Macleans, Mr. Rapp said that "the individual says he's a protected witness... If that were true, we could not confirm it." Mr. Reeves has been quoted that John Richardson, a person in Liberia subject to targeted travel sanctions, has threatened him. Of Mr. Richardson, Rapp said "he's the one who runs '' and who put up the billboards."

            Would threatening a witness be a crime he could prosecute?  Mr. Rapp said that one who threatens could be charged with contempt, and could be put in jail for up to seven years.

            Mr. Rapp arrived at the door of BBC's office, which was locked. "They said they might be gone," Mr. Rapp said. To Inner City Press he said, "I read your report after" his last appearance at the UN. That appearance had been in the UN's briefing room 226. This time, Inner City Press is told, the request to hold a press conference was discouraged, with the explanation that Friday at 5 o'clock does not work.

   But the Security Council chose Friday at 3 p.m. to hold its "debate," consisting of the reading of prepared statements by Council members and, among others, Germany, the Netherlands -- which says it has provided "gratis personnel" to the Court -- and Nigeria. President Obasanjo had offered sanctuary to Charles Taylor, but then under pressure, Mr. Taylor set out to Cameroon and was captured. The UN arranged for his detention and then his transfer to The Hague. Now his prosecutor has hired an outside P.R. firm, to try to tell the story.

            Less desirous of publicity, apparently, is the more directly UN-related International Criminal Court. In Friday's UN "Journal," an event was listed from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. in Conference Room 6: "Friends of the International Criminal Count, briefing by the Office of the Prosecutor of the [ICC], organized by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein." There was no indication that it was a closed meeting, either in the Journal or on the sign outside Conference Room 6, so Inner City Press attended.

            There is much to say about the briefing, but supposedly now none of it can be reported. When question time arrived, Inner City Press was told that the event was entirely "off the record." This seeming strange, for a open event of the UN ICC, Inner City Press asked several questions, among them:

does the ICC track information collected, for example by UNICEF, of parties' recruitment of child soldiers, in Nepal and Sri Lanka and, for example, by Eastern Congo militia leader Peter Karim, who has been given a colonel's post in the Congolese Army

            The ICC speaker's response was... off the record.

            Inner City Press asked about events in Somalia, including the targeting of civilian neighborhoods and a European Union memo questioning whether those supporting these shellings might be guilty of war crimes.

           The International Criminal Court speaker's response was... off the record.  Afterwards, Inner City Press asked the speaker if there was anything said that could be used. Apparently not. What sense does this make, for a public institution about a public issue?  "International Confidential Court," one wag has taken to calling it.

            Friday at the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson if the ICC indictments are helpful. The indictments "must proceed," he said. Video here.

            On Thursday at stakeout, when a question was asked for the ICC's position on UN officials meeting with the Lord's Resistance Army leaders who are under ICC indictment, without arresting them, Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo walked away from the microphone.  Video here, from Minute 8:36. Friday one of his deputies -- unnamed here in light of the unilateral and belated "off the record" declaration -- was asked this same question, but has requested that the answer not be published. Only at the UN...

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540