Supporting armed groups and the contentious issue of specific direction

January 23, 2014

Just under a year ago, Momčilo Perišić, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army until 1998, walked out of a Hague-based court a free man. Judging from a separate ruling in another case, which was delivered today, that decision may have been wrong.

Lawyers for Perišić argued before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that he shouldn’t be held accountable for alleged atrocities, since the aid that Perišić gave to the Bosnian Serbs was not specifically directed towards commission of war crimes. In other words, although these crimes were committed, and Perišić did provide support for the Bosnian Serbs, it could not be proved that this aid was specifically targeted towards the perpetrated crimes. ICTY judges agreed – and Perišić won his freedom.

Some months later, lawyers for Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, used the same argument in his appeal hearing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Here, though, judges rejected the argument, insisting that ICTY judges erred in the Perišić ruling. Taylor’s 50-year conviction stood. It would have been astonishing, given the intractable politics surrounding the Taylor case, had Taylor been able to walk away.

And now today. Lawyers for former Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Šainović had been arguing that his conviction should be overturned, on the grounds that specific direction could not be proven in the aid he had provided the Serbs. Judges rejected this argument, asserting quite strongly that the Perišić ruling was invalid.

So, greater clarity, perhaps, on this highly-contentious element of international law: the link between aiding an armed struggle and that aid being directly targeted towards criminal activities does not have to be firmly established.

Warlords, take note.

What is a book?

January 4, 2014

2014 was the year that we planned to update our guidebook to South Sudan. Our timing may leave something to be desired, since much of the country seems to be erupting in violence at the moment, but I remain the eternal Sudanese optimist.

In doing our preliminary research into what needs updating, with a view to returning to South Sudan a little later this year, I have been somewhat dismayed with the media coverage that our competitor’s guidebook to the country has been receiving.

Here’s a case in point.

On the way back from the UK the other week, I picked up a copy of Wanderlust to entertain me on the 45 minute flight. It’s a magazine I have great regard for and I have been an occasional reader of it since it was first established 20 years ago.

I was quite surprised to see that one of the first articles was on South Sudan. Such surprise quickly turned to dismay and frustration as I skimmed over the article, which wasn’t so much about the country but about the fact that our competitor had been bold enough to publish the “first ever guidebook to the country”.

But hang on. We published our guidebook to South Sudan six months before they did.

Upon my return home, I flicked through other media. The Telegraph was positively salivating over their foresight to publish such a guide.

Which, I repeat, we had done six months before.

The thing is.

The thing is.

Well, the thing is.

Our guidebook is currently available only on Kindle. At the time, we didn’t have resources to publish a printed version, since we were focusing all our efforts on our Hague guidebook.

So what is a book? Wanderlust, The Telegraph and a host of other media have categorically defined a book as being non-electronic.

I beg to differ.

We published the first ever guidebook to an independent South Sudan. And that’s exactly what it will state on our next edition.

The case for out

December 17, 2013

You’d have thought that bashing the EU these days was a pretty easy thing to do and yet eurosceptics still manage to cock it up.

Over the past 40 years of die-hard eurosceptism, surely those making the case for pulling the UK out of this project would have learnt to say the right things. But it appears sometimes as though really they don’t realise that a) membership of the EU is a rather emotive subject, b) Brits aren’t as daft as the oft-espoused propaganda seems to suggest and c) that it’s a good idea to engage brain before activating voice.

I don’t feel it fair to name drop here. There are some very rational eurosceptics, and there are some pretty daft ones. Unfortunately, I feel that it is the daft ones that get most of the air waves.

Not long ago, I heard a prominent eurosceptic praise the “bravery” of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan for precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was of course using this argument to dispel the nonsensical notion that the EU was in some way responsible for this. But even before his words had stopped ricocheting around the auditorium, the come-back was obvious: Really? It was the bravery of Thatcher and Reagan? How about the bravery and tenacity of the East German people?

Of course, it was the europhile making this point that got all the cheers and the eurosceptic, whilst the logic underpinning his poorly-made comment was sound, looked rather foolish.

If this is the strength of eurosceptic argument, then Brussels has nothing to worry about. Hell, we’re definitely going to be staying in the EU.

There is a conspiracy theory that suggests that the reason the UK Independence Party is enjoying so much air time on the BBC, and so many column inches in pro-European papers, is because if this is all the British people hear, then they’re going to certainly vote with the stay-in-the-EU crowd. Listening to some of the eurosceptic viewpoints at the moment, this theory doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Just for the record, I am of the view that the UK should leave the EU. I used to be of the opinion that we should try and reshape the EU into something more democratic and less autocratic. But having closely followed European politics for the past 13 years, including five years in Brussels, I’ve come to the conclusion that this simply won’t work.

But it’s totally crazy to entertain the notion that nothing comes after Brussels. This is a point that eurosceptics must be making far more loudly than they are, and not allow the pro-European camp to falsely imply that we could be leaping into some sort of void with catastrophic consequences.

Thank God that we never subscribed to the euro, otherwise things could be far messier. (It’s true that many contracts by European companies are now written in euros, but that’s not going to change whether we’re a member of the bloc of not).

It’s crazy to suggest that, should we leave the EU, our European partners, are going to storm off in a hissy fit and not want to speak to us. We have a population of nearly 65 million. That’s a mighty lot of BMWs that the Germans can sell to us.

Nor do I think leaving the EU means that we have to close our doors to immigrants, which, despite what UKIP might tell you, have done us the world of good. It just means that we can let them come on our terms. Which is: come here, work, contribute to our GDP. Don’t live in the woods hunting our swans.

The UK may be a mere shadow of its former self, but it is still a formidable economy and the ridiculous idea that we suddenly couldn’t survive without Brussels, that we would suddenly be ostracised and treated as a leper, is laughable and should be countered, with all the might of the eurosceptic lobby.

Ten years ago, europhiles were insisting quite strongly that we should join the euro, even though some fairly prominent economists, both pro- and anti-EU, were pointing out some of the fundamental flaws in the project, which have still not been overcome (largely because politics and economics do not see eye-to-eye).

Over the past few years, sterling has done remarkably well in a sea of euro turbulence. It has fallen significantly over the 10 years, but that is only because Gordon Brown allowed it to over-inflate in the first place.

The British pound is one of the most-traded currencies in the world, largely thanks incidentally to our global financial services industry, which Brussels actually wants to curtail (as an aside, the socialist in me does still have reservations about how the British financial services industry is regulated, but that’s a separate issue and should be up for us to decide anyway). So, whilst Denmark, who also managed to keep its currency, has had to peg it to the euro to ensure stability, we haven’t had to. Doesn’t that suggest our comparative strength?

These are the kinds of arguments that the eurosceptics should be shouting from the rooftops.

So why am I only hearing them whispered in the shadows? Why are they being crowded out by all the other nonsensical eurosceptic rhetoric that crosses the air waves?

Battling with Trading Standards

December 11, 2013

I know that the received wisdom of business management is that one shouldn’t speak ill of one’s competitors. But at times the frustration at the disdain with which smaller players are treated becomes too much. This is one of those times.

For the past five years, we have worked tirelessly to establish a publishing company that provides quality guidebooks for expats. Our first guidebook to Sudan was written for two reasons. Firstly, because we didn’t believe that Bradt – our only competitor for guidebooks to the country – had done a good job. And we still don’t. Secondly, we couldn’t understand how people living in Khartoum could not fall in love with the place. And we still don’t.

Our Sudan guidebook has done astonishingly well, and we have exceeded our own expectations with both editions.

But Bradt still seems to be in denial about our existence. This is despite the fact that we have repeatedly told them about our guidebook, and that the researcher for their last edition knew of our guide. He may even have got a copy.

I’m not saying that Bradt should have sent us flowers or anything – although, if they are listening and do consider doing so, pink carnations would be nice – but when they continue to insist, despite repeated warnings, that they are the only guidebook to Sudan… well, then I take issue.

Shortly after we published the first edition of our guidebook to Sudan, Bradt published a new edition of their own guide, maintaining that theirs was “the only standalone guidebook to this unique edition”. Despite the fact that the researcher of the guidebook was aware of our guide.

I promptly responded to say that it was no longer true and, quite reasonably I felt, requested that they change this claim.

This was the polite email I got back from Janet Mears:

“Thank you for your letter of 4th December 2010 and your follow-up telephone call of 7th January 2011.  I apologise for the delay in responding.

I confirm that the next printing of Bradt’s Sudan will have the words ‘This is the only standalone guide to this unique destination’ removed from the back cover.”

Sorted. Or so I thought.

But, when they republished their guide in November 2012, they repeated their assertion, this time claiming theirs was “the only guidebook to post-partition Sudan”. Again a totally false statement that they should have been fully aware of.

Incidentally, it is worth pointing out at this point that the Advertising Standards Authority have upheld the complaint against Bradt’s misleading claim, and requested websites remove the wording. Unfortunately, they do not have the mandate to take action against “product packaging” – or in other words the blurb on the back of a book.

Enter Trading Standards.

I have spent the past year toing and froing with Trading Standards. At first, thanks to a wonderfully helpful official from the organisation, I thought that they would be able to help. But my complaint appears to have got caught up in labyrinthine bureaucracy.

I’ll spare you the rather tortuous emails that I have been exchanging with Trading Standards, save to quote from their last significant correspondence: “Despite the complaint appearing to reveal some potential CPR offences, it seems to be more of a civil copyright issue between two publishing companies.”

I’m not sure where the person quoted studied law, but this is wrong on so many levels. We are not claiming that Bradt infringed copyright. We are asserting, quite strongly, that the company is in breach of Trading Standards by openly (and perhaps deliberately) lying on their product packaging. It seems a fairly open-and-closed case. But, even if there are grey areas I am not fully appreciating, at least someone should look seriously at our complaint. After all, as a British taxpayer, I’m funding Trading Standards.

Yet still Trading Standards refuse to take any action. Their mandate says that they can become involved if a product does not “match the description on packaging”?

So why are they not at least considering our case, when the Advertising Standards Authority agree that the wording Bradt is using is invalid?

It’s a point I have put to them and I am yet to hear back, simply being passed from one person to the next. It strikes me as faintly ironic that I read Franz Kafka for the first time, when updating our guidebook to the country.

I am still pursuing the matter, with dwinling optimism, since Trading Standards’ justification for turning our case down appears extremely watery, and I would welcome any views on the matter.

But, in the meantime, remember that Bradt’s claim that theirs is “the only guidebook to post-partition Sudan” is a blatant lie. And one that has probably cost us sales. We were the first publishing company to produce a guidebook to Sudan after independence. And no one can ever take that claim away from us.

And buy our guidebook – not theirs.

Let them come

November 29, 2013

David Cameron seems to be veering towards dangerous populism that kills any possibility of having a rational debate about the European Union. Suggesting that we are becoming the “nasty country” of Europe, as EU employment commissioner Laszlo Andor did, might be a little harsh; but perhaps the “intellectually disingenuous” country might be closer to the mark.

From the beginning of next year, a wave of Bulgarians and Romanians are certain to wash up on British shores. Someone should probably tell them about the weather in Britain in January. But, that aside, there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop them arriving. And nor should we.

Cameron’s jibe at Tony Blair that he should never have let East Europeans into the country so soon after enlargement – EU countries could have imposed a seven-year transition period for such nationals; only Sweden, Ireland and Britain waived this right – is a cheap populist argument that follows a discredited school of economics. It presupposes that jobs are finite, which they are not.

Take a look at the following graph. Here you can clearly see the British economy outperforming the French one right up until 2008, when of course we paid the price for our deregulated financial market.


Now I wouldn’t be so presumptious as to claim this was entirely due to wondering Poles, but they certainly helped.

Now, Cameron isn’t, as noted, suggesting that Bulgarians and Romanians can’t come. What he is doing is imposing measures to make sure they don’t rip off the British taxpayer.

Fair enough.

But there is also an inherent danger in what he is doing. By appealing to a slightly disagreeable anti-immigrant sentiment that currently courses through the echelons of British society, Cameron, who was schooled at Eton and studied economics at Oxford, risks an over-simplification of the discussion.

Immigration is not bad. It is what has kept our economy afloat for the past decade. It is what made America.

What is bad – and here I will agree with our PM – is those East Europeans that come to the UK simply to get free housing.

But I for one would like to know how many of these Romanians and Bulgarians are planning on coming to the UK simply so they can be out of work in greater comfort than back home. Surely they must know it is cold there.

Cameron needs to move away from straight-forward populism, and be a little more thorough in his treatment of the argument.

A carefully thought-out, mature and sensible immigration policy is what we need.

Some statistics wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Let’s not forget the Greeks

September 27, 2013

Merkel is once again Chancellor of Germany – for those that missed the news a week ago. The victory was pretty convincing (although she did not win an outright majority and still needs to find a coalition partner) and a clear recognition by the German people that when it comes to management of the financial crisis, all in all, she hasn’t actually done all that bad.

For Germany.

Which, of course, in national elections is what counts. Germans, quite rightly, should vote for their leader according to what he or she can deliver in the national interest.

The problem is that these days we live in an ever-eurofied world, and too much of Angela Merkel’s management of the euro-crisis has been geared towards the national electorate. Screw the Greeks. They don’t cast a ballot in the German election. And there’s not actually all that many of them.

Media in Greece and Italy are understandably downcast about Merkel’s victory. I don’t read Greek, but here’s a taste from Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale in Italy.

For those that don’t speak Italian, here are the opening few lines in English:

“The Germans have rewarded, once again, the line of austerity, rigor and a pro-European grip that has devastated several countries of the Eurozone.  Thus, while the main economic indicators of the Old Continent seem to rotate the minus sign in percentages above zero and analysts begin to speak with a quiet optimism of ‘recovery’, the German management of the European Union in the hands of the [Merkel] has above all contributed to this injury.”

As the largest economy in Europe, and one of the more pro-European ones, Germany rightly had to take the lead in dealing with the crisis. Furthermore, the monetary union was created at Germany’s behest, so they honestly ought to step up and deal with it.

The problem is that national sentiments have triumphed, and in saving German creditors and doggedly refusing to consider a controlled default, Merkel and advisors have pushed Greece into depression.

It’s now time for Angela Merkel to step up and, with another term under her belt, really start to work towards addressing the continuing euro-crisis. This time for the good of Europe and not just the German electorate.

The problem is that I’m not sure she’s surrounding herself with the people best suited to tackling the crux of the problem. Here’s an op-ed in the FT written just before the election by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who suggests that everything is tickety-boo down euro-street. It now looks as though Mr Schäuble will stay on in his role.

This blog post offers a robust response to Mr Schäuble’s witterings. I make no apology that it comes from my uncle, although I would like to point out, as I am forced to on so many occasions, that we are two separate people and often hold quite different views.

In this case, though, I am compelled to concur and also ask: what exactly is the learned Mr Schäuble on about?

Rocky start to Kenyan trial

September 20, 2013

The ICC trial against William Ruto, deputy president of Kenya, and journalist Joshua Sang has got off to a rocky start.

No sooner had testimony of the first witness begun then her name was allegedly leaked on the Internet, most likely via Twitter (established Kenyan media outlets maintain that they were not responsible, though some of them have been repeating the leakage).

Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji chose his words carefully when he said that it appeared to be leaked, realising to state things with greater certitude would confirm that the leaked name was actually correct. Lawyers in the trial seemed not to be so circumspect.

The vitriolic animosity displayed by certain Tweeters against this witness was startling, although perhaps shows how polarised the debate over the trials has become within Kenya.

The (alleged) revelation of this witness is extremely worrying, especially as prosecution witnesses have been withdrawing from the case at an alarming rate (two more withdrew this week, arguing in their affidavit that things were now at peace in Kenya and they didn’t want to change this).

The judge responded to the matter by throwing all of the testimony of the first witness into closed session. This seems to have benefitted the prosecution, since it is in the interest of the accused for the allegations to be heard in public.

Lawyers for Ruto and Sang intensely fought for the witness’s testimony to be heard in open session, with Karim Khan, lawyer for Ruto, even arguing that it was placing a huge strain on Ruto’s eighty year old mother since she was not able to follow the trial back in Kenya.

But the judge made the right decision. How can these allegations be heard in public when the identity of the witness is known? Allegedly.

One can only hope that the identity of future witnesses will be better concealed.

The judge wasted no time in sending out a message to the Kenyan media and anyone who might be inclined to reveal the identity of witnesses that they could face prosecution for such contempt of court.

It is not entirely clear what exactly what the ICC can do about this, but the strong implication from the Rome Statute is that responsibility should rest with member states.

Article 70 states: “Each State Party shall extend its criminal laws penalizing offences against the integrity of its own investigative or judicial process to offences against the administration of justice referred to in this article, committed on its territory, or by one of its nationals.”

Whether Kenya, which is now considering total withdrawal from the ICC, will actually be prepared to take any action over this matter remains an open question.

The danger is that, without a clear understanding of the damage that such leakages do to due process and the very real threat of sanctions for anyone committing such contempt of court, I fear that this may not be a one-off.


July 30, 2013

That Bradley Manning looked about 12 when led away from court, after being found guilty of leaking US state secrets, probably says it all.

Whistleblowing is certainly a noble endeavour. But the thing is that whistleblowing should always be for the wider good. And I’m not certain that Bradley Manning’s leaking to Wikileaks, who then diseminated the information willinilly (with seemingly little journalistic integrity), was wholeheartedly in the public interest.

Journalists exist for a reason – to determine what information should be disseminated. Some thought needs to be given to when governments should be embarrassed. Of course, a great deal of information that is kept secret does need to be exposed. But there is also a very justifiable need for secrecy among governments. And there needs to be some serious consideration given to where that boundary lies.

Neither Julius Assange, the founder of wikileaks, who professes to be a journalist, and Bradley Manning, who never professed such a thing, gave the leaked information such consideration – and, for that reason, they are both a dangerous impediment to our society.

They may ultimately have done some good, in certain ways, but in other ways they may have done a great deal of harm – and even have cost lives. That is the reason Manning is now going to gaol and why Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Yes, freedom of information is vitally important and whistleblowers will always be needed. But before savaging the US government, one should bare in mind that there must always be a careful selection of what should be uncovered and what should not.

That’s why the media exists. In this era of open information, it’s needed more than ever.

Beating China

July 23, 2013

That Ghana was significantly richer than Thailand when it achieved independence from the British in 1957, and yet is now more than five times poorer, has been repeated so much that it has gone beyond the cliché.

Well, here’s Africa’s chance to get back into the game.

The past 20 years has seen the wholesale dismantling of Europe’s consumer-based industries, and the emergence of these sectors elsewhere in the world, primarily Asia (shoes: made in China, toys: made in China, chic fashion accessories: made in China) .

For some time, folk have also been speculating about a similar phenomenon happening in Africa – the African Lion or the African Elephant, perhaps. What appears to be happening on the continent, though, is slightly different to the Asia success story – and could explain why the 21st Century will remain Asia’s to dominate.

There have been signs of significant growth in certain sectors in Africa, agribusiness being an obvious one that I write regularly about. Here, throughout the continent, subsistence farming is developing into commercial farming at a breathtaking rate, with dramatic and largely positive results. It means, for one thing, that we’re not going to starve. At last, the idea that Africa can be the “breadbasket of the world” is coming to fruition.

At the same time, many countries are seeing a huge surge in the affluent middle class. Nigel Bannerman, an investment director at Silk Invest, an investment fund, says Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco are looking particularly strong in this respect.

This has meant that many investors can set up a manufacturing base in certain countries and sell to the local populace. Silk Invest bases its entire strategy around this philosophy.

What does not appear to be happening, however, is the establishment of a dedicated consumer industry that can export to the rest of the world, in the same way as has happened in places like China and India.

Costs in Asian factories – particularly labour costs – now appear to be rising, particularly as governments start playing around with the minimum wage.

So is the time yet ready for Africa – which has a large unemployed population, and correspondingly lower wage demands – to step into Asia’s ready?

Conversations that I have been having recently suggest that it probably isn’t, and this could become the continent’s greatest missed opportunity so far in the post-colonial world. For whilst labour costs might appear cheaper in Africa, corresponding productivity remains low, making the cost competitiveness less attractive than in Asia. The World Bank has done some research on this.

The Asian miracle has come about not just because of cheap labour costs, but because of a committed workforce, strong work ethics and efficiency. If Africa can reinvent itself in this way, it has a lot to gain, but my fear is that it won’t and this great opportunity will slide by.

The ICC’s budget – moving to the grand finale?

July 3, 2013

Every year since moving to The Hague I have written a new piece about the lack of money available to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has been rather depressing, actually.

As budgetary needs have increased – the Court now has active cases in seven countries: Kenya, Libya, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Mali – the court’s sponsor, the Assembly of States Parties, has been relentless in trying to reign in spending.

In part, the timing of the ICC’s expanding workload was unfortunate, coinciding as it did with the meltdown of the financial markets.

But the opaque and sometimes incompetent way in which the ICC has often been run must also be to blame.

I have just finished my annual installment of the budget saga, which you can read here. Researching it, I had endless background conversations with member states – unfortunately only the British would go on record – and the distrust towards the court was still palpable (though things have improved markedly since the low years of 2010/2011).

The thing is that the ICC, in particularly the prosecutorial services, badly does need some more cash if it is to succeed in the work it has set out to do.

Thank God, therefore, for the arrival of the new Registrar, Herman von Hebel, who served as Registrar at both the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Court for Lebanon. When I met him in his office – the same one where, four years ago, I had my first meeting at the ICC, with then-Registrar Silvana Arbia – it was hard not to warm to him.

Out of courtesy, I gave him the option of having the conversation on the record or off, with subsequent quote approvals. Without hesitation, he gave me the go-ahead to have it fully on-the-record. As one ASP source subsequently remarked, “This shows that he has the confidence to speak freely.”

And he is a very good communicator, and he seems to get the courts problems many than many others I have spoken to within the ICC. He knows that he has to increase the transparency and openness of the court, because that will boost confidence and hopefully loosen the purse strings of the ASP a little.

Words, of course, are one thing; actions quite another. And it will be interesting to see whether, for all his self-assurance and determination, he can actually prise open an institution that, to a fairly large degree, regards itself as primarily judicial and therefore unanswerable to the probing questions of us journalists.

The article that I hope I can write next year, if I am still here, is: there have been some really impressive changes at the ICC, so why are member states still not living up to their responsibilities by giving it the financial backing it so desperately needs?


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