CPJ concerned about tribunal ruling

New York, June 11, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the decision by a United Nations war crimes tribunal to compel the testimony of retired Washington Post reporter Jonathan C. Randal.

In its June 7 decision, the tribunal ruled that Randal will be forced to testify regarding the accuracy of a 1993 article in which he quoted Bosnian-Serb housing minister Radoslav Brdjanin as saying that those “unwilling to defend [Bosnian-Serb territory] must be moved out” in order to create “an ethnically clean space.”

Brdjanin is facing charges of genocide before the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is based in The Hague.

The tribunal determined that Randal could be compelled to authenticate the information that was publicly reported in the Post article but acknowledged that any attempt to subpoena journalists must be “conducted and regulated in a way which will not unduly hamper, obstruct or otherwise frustrate the vital role of news gathering of the journalist and/or media.”

“We do not believe that Randal should be compelled to testify, and we are concerned that the tribunal’s ruling could jeopardize the safety of journalists in war zones by compromising their perceived neutrality,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “However, we are encouraged that the decision acknowledges the special role that the media play in reporting on war crimes and affirms that journalists should not be subpoenaed unnecessarily.”

In its decision, the tribunal noted that testimony sought from Randal did not involve any confidential sources or unpublished material. It also noted that Randal, who is now retired, would not be exposed to physical harm because of his testimony.

“Based on the language of this decision, we are hopeful that the tribunal would never require journalists to testify in circumstances where they could be asked to reveal a confidential source, discuss unpublished material, or in cases in which testimony could put either journalists or their sources in physical danger,” said Cooper.