Seeking Balance in How the International Criminal Court Communicates Prosecution and Defence Narratives to the Public

Publication Date



Journal of International Criminal Justice


In the aftermath of atrocities, international criminal trials become forums for telling stories about the alleged crimes. These stories are presented by the prosecution and defence, before being distilled into a judicial narrative by the judges. The International Criminal Court (ICC) faces the challenge of communicating this plurality of narratives to the public, who want to know in certain terms what crimes happened, why they happened and who was responsible. The decisive answers to these questions are in the judicial narrative, but this is unavailable until many years into the proceedings. For most of the time, the ICC has to find a coherent way of presenting the conflicting narratives of the prosecution and defence to the outside world. This article argues that neither party can claim to have more accurate narratives than the other, so their accounts should be heard by the public equally. The value of communicating their narratives is not to hold them up as the truth, but to demonstrate how the legal process can accommodate competing versions of events and arrive at the authoritative narrative after hearing both sides and testing their evidence. The public may currently have a distorted impression of this process at the ICC given that the prosecution, as an organ, can amplify its narratives in public using institutional resources not available to the defence. The article recommends providing the defence an equal platform for communication as is offered to the prosecution. While this comes with some risks, such as potentially platforming denialist narratives, these can be mitigated through, for instance, contextualizing the narratives that come from the Court. In any event, the risks are outweighed by the potential benefits, including improving the perception of the Court’s impartiality and legitimacy in communities where the ICC might be lacking it most.



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Oxford University Press



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