Slow pace of justice challenged by speed of internet

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The internet campaign Kony2012 has turned into a global hype; hundreds of millions of people have seen the film about Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The campaign might help to speed up his arrest but, even so, it would take years for the case to come to court. The timeframe called for by the social media campaign seems to suggest that reality is malleable.

The ICC trial of Thomas Lubanga is a perfect example of just how slow the judicial process is. The case against him started six years ago and the verdict was only issued yesterday (14 March 2012). The Congolese rebel leader was found guilty of war crimes; it was the court's first verdict in its entire 10-year history.

The ICC's slow, painstaking and thorough judicial process stands in stark contrast to the campaigns run on social media sites where impact is instant and a response is just a click away. The US organisation Invisible Children uploaded a film ten days ago (5 March) about the alleged war crimes committed by Joseph Kony, leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. The YouTube film has already generated nearly 80 million hits; Invisible Children’s stated goal is to have Kony arrested and extradited to The Hague to face trial.

Why Kony?
Whether all this attention will actually lead to Kony being brought before the ICC remains to be seen, says Göran Sluiter, professor of international law in Amsterdam.

"The International Court has been trying to get its hands on Kony for a long time. The problem is that he is very difficult to find; a film on the internet isn't going to change that in a heartbeat."

That said, Professor Sluiter says he is in favour of the campaign. 

"It's always good to see people being made aware of crimes against humanity and about suspects the ICC hasn't managed to arrest yet. However, one should ask ‘why Kony?’ After all, there are plenty of others on the most-wanted list."

It is questionable whether any follow-up campaigns would achieve the same results as Kony2012. Hypes usually follow each other in rapid tempo. Invisible Children believes that campaigns such as Kony2012 will play an increasing role in international justice.

More attention
The law professor also believes that the internet will change international justice. 

"We're seeing far more attention paid to international justice issues on social media sites. People are also using social media and mobile telephones to gather and disseminate evidence. We are certainly seeing this in Syria; people are recording all sorts of terrible things on their mobile phones and putting them online for the entire world to see, and that includes the ICC."

But does one person's mobile recording of an event or even a film like Kony2012 constitute legal evidence? Professor Sluiter reminds viewers hoping for justice that Kony2012 is simply a private campaign. "The ICC cannot comment on the contents of the film. It is one person's interpretation and Kony has not had the opportunity to answer to the charges in a court of law."

Innocent until proven guilty
The professor emphasises that Kony still has a right to a fair trial. 

"The charges against him are extremely serious. The prosecutor obviously feels he has enough evidence to secure a conviction. However, the ICC has to consider him innocent until proven guilty. Even somebody like Kony has the right to legal assistance and a fair trial."

In other words, if Kony is brought to trial, it will be just as long and difficult a process as the case against Lubanga.

People raised in the age of social media are used to instant responses; the slow pace of justice is as foreign to them as a fish riding a bicycle. The speed with which the Kony2012 campaign has spread and the massive amount of attention generated suggests that something will happen, and soon. However, the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, even if they do eventually grind exceedingly small.

(jric/imm)