Call for Papers: International Criminal Justice in an "Age of Misinformation"

Deadline: 

01/25/21

Event Date: 

12/1/21

Location name: 

n/a

Organization: 

Journal of International Criminal Justice

Call for Abstracts

Journal Symposium: International Criminal Justice in an ‘Age of Misinformation’

Summary

The guest co-editors, Birju Kotecha and Daley Birkett, together with the Journal of International Criminal Justice, invite abstracts for a forthcoming symposium on the theme of ‘International Criminal Justice in an “Age of Misinformation”’, to be published in December 2021. 

Combining theoretical, doctrinal, and practical perspectives, the symposium focuses on communication in international criminal justice. The symposium seeks to explore how, in a misinformation age, international(ized) criminal tribunals (ICTs) communicate with their stakeholders (e.g. States Parties, affected communities, civil society, donors, etc.) and out to the public at large. Equally, and at a time of increasing demand for ‘freedom of information’, i.e. the ‘right to know’, the symposium offers an opportunity for a renewed analysis of activities such as outreach, public information, and external relations. 

The symposium aims to boost the academic and practical understanding of communication by anyone engaged in the field of international criminal justice, whether outside court settings (e.g. academics, civil society organizations, journalists, and individual observers) or working within such settings (e.g. outreach practitioners, public affairs professionals, advocates, policymakers, and judges). In doing so, the symposium will provide a rigorous account of the significance of communication not only for the everyday operation of courts and tribunals, but also in achieving the broader goals of international criminal justice. 

Background

International criminal justice is said to be in a state of perpetual crisis. In an era of populism, elites continue to attack the legitimacy of institutions such as the International Criminal Court (Court). Of course, such threats are nothing new; international institutions have long been subject to states conducting realpolitik. However, what is new is today’s fragmented information landscape. The rise of diverse social media accompanied by a decline of public trust in institutional expertise has led to a unique set of threats posed by misinformation i.e., the rapid spread of false information, often with an intent to deceive. 

One thing is clear: the present landscape, including a ‘marketplace of ideas’ within which the notion of ‘truth’ has become eroded, has implications for the legitimacy of international criminal justice. To illustrate, in recent times, Israel has been accused of launching a misinformation campaign against the Court. Malaysia’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute was, in part, attributed to ‘fake news.’ In a media environment where such terms can be misused, communication across international criminal justice requires the type of scrutiny that hitherto, has not been generated. To put it crudely, one needs to interrogate: how are we talking about international criminal justice, and how ought we talk about it in the future?

Noting expressly the new information landscape and the use of misinformation campaigns, in 2019 the Court declared that developing its communication strategies was essential. The recent Independent Expert Review of the Court has now made improving them a priority, with the Final Report recommending co-ordinated and integrated communications across the Court’s activities — something that will undoubtedly be on the new Prosecutor’s list of priorities when they take Office in June 2021. The Report details a series of problems in current Outreach Strategy and also cites the need for tailored communications that can defend the Court from political threats and promote its image (or brand) among audiences, including those key stakeholders such as governments, affected communities, and civil society. Such communications are said to be crucial to promote public understanding of the Court, its jurisdiction, its goals and its decisions and judgments so that justice is seen to be done. 

Essentially these are ‘public relations’ communications that also ‘market’ international criminal justice. These communications take many forms include traditional statements and speeches but, more recently, include social media postings, online articles, Q&As, podcasts, blogs, television interviews and, when motivated by openness, judgment summaries and published policies. However, in today’s ‘attention economy’, effective communication requires compelling narratives and styles that engage audiences. For lawyers more accustomed to technical detail and the rationalities of legalism, there are risks attached to entering a more politicized arena of debate and adopting unconventional messaging. 

For instance, on 1 March 2019, the official Court Twitter account posted a ‘#fake news’ hashtag and a ‘direct to camera’ video clip in which Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda defended her Office’s independent mandate from attacks of bias. Whether such a post was advisable or not, in this guise public relations is about legitimation and defending organizational reputation. Its practice includes framing arguments, the use of rhetoric (or ‘spin’) and other messaging tactics that borrow from a corporate toolkit. These practices are not without dangers, not least inviting questions about the appropriateness of legal institutions engaging in communications that may pose a risk to their independence, perceived or actual.

Against this background, the boundaries between argument, interpretation, misrepresentation and falsehood can become blurred. This extends to academic critique, albeit online rather than in journal pages. In May 2019, the Court released a ‘public Q&A’ on the Appeals Chamber’s judgment on Head of State Immunities and, in a rare intervention, the Court’s spokesperson replied to criticism of the judgment on an international law blog — EJIL:Talk!. This Q&A stated that lawyers, including academics, engaging in ‘hasty’ online debate may be acting unethically in misrepresenting the Court’s decisions especially given the spread of such commentary on social media. 

At its core, public relations resists accountability and can mask the importance of listening to and addressing criticism. Criticisms may be polemical, and even when factually contestable, may raise concerns that strike at blind-spots those inside organizations are unable to see. One might ask why damaging narratives — such as the ‘International Criminal Court’s bias against African States’ — have persisted. Is it simply because such criticism is unarguable and has not been adequately addressed? Or is it, in part, attributable to a failure of public relations? Is such a failure inevitable, or can communication strategies effectively protect organizational reputation? If so, what are the sensible and proper limits of such strategies?

The editors hope that authors will explore such issues and much more too. Key questions that may be examined include, but are not limited to:

•    To what extent do communication strategies meet substantive demands for openness, transparency and free access to information?
•    What are the benefits, costs and risks of ICTs engaging in public relations in an ‘age of misinformation’? 
•    How, if at all, can barriers to communication at ICTs (e.g. geographical distance, culture, linguistic, jurisdictional) be overcome?
•    After the Independent Expert Report on the Court, how should the Court’s new Prosecutor (and the Court at large) develop its future communication strategies?  
•    Are current approaches to outreach adopted by ICTs adequate and if not, what reforms are necessary?
•    What comparisons and contrasts can be made between the communication strategies of ICTs, regional and domestic (appellate) courts?
•    What are the traditional conventions, narratives, messages, and styles of communication adopted by ICT’s and to what degree are they appropriate and effective in an ‘age of misinformation’?  
•    What is the relationship between communication and the achievement of goals such as legitimacy, deterrence, and others found in the Preamble of the Rome Statute?

Timeline

Abstracts should be no more than 600 words. We welcome submissions from theoretical, doctrinal, empirical, socio-legal, and/or practical perspectives and from a range of disciplines. Submissions from those working in the field such as outreach practitioners are particularly welcome as are those offering accounts not necessarily focused on the International Criminal Court. Abstracts will be evaluated by the symposium’s editorial team and be selected on the basis of merit and diversity of perspectives. 

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 25 January 2021 and should be sent by e-mail to jicj@geneva-academy.ch, specifying ‘Response to CfA – Age of Misinformation’ in the subject-line of the email. After a review of abstracts by the end of February, the editors will invite some of the authors to prepare full manuscripts of no more than 9000 words (including an Abstract and all footnotes) by 1 June 2021. Papers submitted to the Journal are subject to its double-blind peer review policy; we hope to complete the review and selection process by 1 September 2021. In addition, all selected authors will be invited to present working drafts, if not in-person then virtually, at a day-long workshop to be provisionally held at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon-Tyne, United Kingdom in May 2021. Depending on the number and quality of submitted abstracts, the Journal’s Editorial Board reserves the choice to publish the symposium as a special issue of the Journal. For questions and further information please contact guest co-editor, Birju Kotecha, at birju.kotecha@northumbria.ac.uk or the Journal’s executive editor, Urmila Dé at jicj@geneva-academy.ch.