I knew a lot about how the International Criminal Court, ICC, worked but was keen to see it in action because of its role in achieving justice for the people from my part of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. The IWPR internship in The Hague offered me a great opportunity to observe it at first hand and to be part of the reporting.
After getting used to the trams - we don't have any in Goma - I went straight to the office and got a warm welcome from the staff. We then had a meeting to discuss my expectations during my stay. First I wanted to know how the ICC works and how trials are organised. I also wanted to meet ICC people for interviews that I could broadcast for the DRC audience.
The IWPR office in The Hague also covers the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and contributes to "Face à la justice", a radio programme widely heard in DRC as well as reporting on hearings of the case against accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga. The four reporters write about DRC, Uganda, Sudan and Central Africa Republic.
The staff have a system for monitoring the judicial processes in The Hague, but also have an eagle eye on the countries of the ICTY and ICC. The four journalists maintain good contacts with the prosecutors, the defence and victims' lawyers, as well as other members of courts who can provide information and they work very hard.
One of the reporters, Rachel Irwin, who daily covers Lubanga's trial, took me to the court and introduced me to the press room and Courtroom I where Lubanga's case is tried. Katy Glassborow helped me to get many contacts with the prosecutors, defence and victims' lawyers so that I could arrange interviews.
The big ICC press room, equipped with computers, internet and a TV screen, was empty apart from Rachel and me and one other person. I did not understand why media are not interested in telling the world what is happening at the court. IWPR staff told me that the others come when there is a big event. They said that major news agencies are represented at the ICC as well as at ICTY.
I realised that ICC is really a huge machine. It is big building, with three hearing rooms and many offices. Every day there are hearings, except Monday and weekends. People in DRC do not realise this. They think that apart from the days when media report on important events at the court, the rest of the time is free. I personally thought this should be made clear so that people can understand that trials take a long time.
From the office in The Hague, I called partner radio stations in DRC, Rwanda and Burundi almost every day to discuss ICC activities and to work out story angles with them. I hope these will turn into permanent contacts with the radio stations. The internet makes sending the stories easy.
I learned to specialise in issues of justice. This is quite different from DRC, where journalists' work is spread across too many fields and, in the end, reporters remain amateurs. At IWPR, all the tools are available to enable us to do our work well.
During a session of the Lubanga trial, many people serving in the Congolese army were cited in witness testimony on the ethnic conflicts that raged in the Ituri region of DRC during 2002 and 2003. This matches what we heard on the ground.
I also noticed that many researchers, lawyers and students are attending the trial. This suggests that the work of ICC and the case of Congo will be part of courses in universities around the world and be used in academic publications.
During my, IWPR gave me many opportunities to improve my skills by attending conferences and debates. I took part in a panel called "Is support for the ICC wavering in Africa?" and attended an evening debate on "The End of Impunity, The future of International Criminal Justice".
Such meetings and panels are very important for me since we have to develop advocacy at the local level, as well as the international level so that my country can learn from past mistakes.
IWPR trainee Jacques Kahorha,24 June 2009