Retired reporter wins right to avoid testifying at The Hague

By Toby Sterling
Thursday 12 December 2002 01:00

A former reporter for The Washington Post won an appeal yesterday to the United Nations war crimes tribunal and will not have to testify in court.

Jonathan Randal, who has retired, had resisted a subpoena to appear against Radovan Brdjanin, a Bosnian Serb leader he interviewed in 1993 who is on trial at The Hague for the persecution and expulsion of more than 100,000 non-Serbs during the Bosnian war.

The appellate court said war correspondents should be allowed limited exemption from being compelled to testify. The five judges said a court had to be convinced that the "evidence has a direct and important value in determining a core issue in the case", and that there was no reasonable alternative for obtaining the evidence.

The judges said they doubted whether Mr Randal's evidence fitted either criterion, and cancelled his subpoena. But they said the prosecutors could apply for a new subpoena to the lower court.

The decision is likely to set a precedent in other international courts. "We're delighted. This is a really important decision for journalism and international law," Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, said. Mr Randal, who was not present, was supported in his appeal by 34 international news organisations.

The court said it was in everyone's interest for reporters to work freely in war zones and to bring attention to the horrors of warfare. Images from a detention camp in Bosnia had alerted the international community to the human rights abuses, it added.

Mr Randal's lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, said that the judges had understood that "for war correspondents to be routinely compelled would threaten their neutrality".

The prosecution had argued that journalists should have no special privileges, and were no different from other international workers, such as UN or Red Cross personnel.(AP)

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