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UN mulls forcing journalist to testify

May 12, 2002

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THE HAGUE, May 11: The UN war crimes tribunal is deciding whether to force a reporter to testify at the trial of a Bosnian Serb leader in a case that could set a precedent on journalists’ rights in covering wars, lawyers said on Saturday.

Prosecutors at the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have subpoenaed Washington Post reporter Jonathan Randal, whose 1993 article on Serb “ethnic cleansing” was admitted as evidence in the genocide trial of Bosnian Serb Radoslav Brdjanin.

A lawyer for Randal said forcing him to testify could hamper journalists’ ability to cover wars, an issue likely to come under heavy scrutiny with the agreement last month to establish a permanent international war crimes court in The Hague.

Geoffrey Robertson, the British attorney representing Randal, said the key issue was the likely impact of making war reporters compelled to testify.

“This will make it difficult for them and their colleagues to obtain information because their sources will dry up,” said Geoffrey Robertson, the British attorney representing Randal.

“International criminal justice depends to a certain extent on journalists’ ability to cover war crimes. If journalists are excluded or handicapped or killed by warring parties...we may not get a war crimes tribunal,” he said.

A hearing on Randal’s subpoena was held on Friday, and judges are expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks on whether he will have to testify in court.

Defence lawyers for Brdjanin rejected a prosecution offer to admit a statement from Randal, who is now retired and lives in Paris, since they wanted the opportunity to cross-examine him.

The defence lawyer John Ackerman said essential context was absent from the Washington Post article.—Reuters