A lively narrative account of the first case to appear at the International Criminal Court, A Conviction in Question documents the trial of Union of Congolese Patriots leader and warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Although Dyilo’s crimes, including murder, rape, and the forcible conscription of child soldiers, were indisputable, legal wrangling and a clash of personalities caused the trial to be prolonged for an unprecedented six years. This book offers an accessible account of the rapid evolution of international law and the controversial trial at the foundation of the International Criminal Court.
The first book to thoroughly examine Dyilo’s trial, A Conviction in Question looks at the legal issues behind each of the trial’s critical moments, including the participation of Dyilo’s victims at the trial and the impact of witness protection. Through eye-witness observation and analysis, Jim Freedman shows that the trial suffered from all the problems associated with ordinary criminal law trials, and uses Dyilo’s case to further comment on the role of international courts in a contemporary global context.
We spoke with author Jim Freedman about the inspiration, process, and research behind his latest project.
How did you become involved in your area of research?
I‘ve always recognized the potential of international law to protect vulnerable populations and promote peace but for years the practice of international law was ineffective, the cases at The Hague were boring and national leaders were afraid of law’s potential. Then came the international criminal tribunals for (previous) Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as the international treaty that gave birth to the Rome Statute. It was then that the prospects of a truly international court with prospects for international jurisdiction emerged as an exciting reality. I could not resist.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had the good fortune to serve on the UN Panel investigating the roots of the 1996-2002 war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the course of serving on this panel, I happened to find myself caught in a very unpleasant cross-fire involving child soldiers conscripted by the warlord rebel leader Thomas Lubanga. When the new International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him and brought him for trial as its first defendant, I felt compelled, personally, to follow the trial.
How did you become interested in the subject?
The rapid increase in civil wars and conflict following the end of the cold war has been hard to ignore. It has stymied efforts to address the critical issues of poverty and human rights violations. As an academic and an international consultant, the increasing presence of conflict and its profound impact on efforts to reduce poverty required me to think about remedies to conflict in developing nations.
How long did it take you to write A Conviction in Question?
Approximately seven years. I had followed the trial of Thomas Lubanga from its beginning in 2006 but was finishing another book at the time. I began to commit myself fully in 2010. The trial concluded in 2013 and I worked as steadily as possible on the writing until early 2017.
What do you find most interesting about your area of research?
Bringing about justice for international crimes of war and crimes against humanity poses very unique challenges that are different from those faced by trials in domestic courts. The Rome Statute and the ICC trials have made a real effort to draw selectively from existing law conventions of various legal traditions and to find legal frameworks that are capable of addressing these very special and very serious international crimes. It is fascinating to follow how principles and practices at the ICC have struggled to find ways of bringing justice to victims of these crimes.
What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?
I have realized that it is not just the difficulty of drafting laws and trial procedures for an international court that poses major challenges for the ICC; it is also the lawyers themselves. Some lawyers who come before the court are very committed to justice. But some are just as much interested in showing their prowess in winning cases by manipulating evidence. There might be room for this in domestic law where high profile lawyers can also be celebrities, but it has little place in high stakes international criminal trials.
Did you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of this book?
The crimes have taken place in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan authorities have also been implicated in the perpetuation of these crimes. The trial itself has been held in The Hague, Netherlands. Extensive and repeated travel has been unavoidable.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I very much wanted the book to be an exciting read. At the same time, it had to present relatively complex legal issues clearly. Ensuring that the book was both eminently readable and, at the same time, represented the critical legal and academic issues accurately was perhaps the most difficult challenge.
What are your current/future projects?
I am currently in the middle of a book on the rise of Moise Katumbi, his unusual parentage and the role he is sure to play in opposing President Kabila and supporting free elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?
I very much like to read non-fiction, especially books that present new ideas. This includes Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, Spacex and the Quest for a Fantastic Future and Jennifer Doudna’s A Crack in Creation, Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.
What is your favourite book?
Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet