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Judging Judges: A Reply to Marko Milanovic

Published on March 22, 2012        Author: 

Gentian Zyberi is a defence Lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

This is a reply to the post by Marko Milanovic entitled ‘Judging Judges: A Statistical Exercise’. His starting point is a paragraph by Andrea Bianchi’s post ‘On Certainty’ which speaks about certainty in international law, based on the ICJ’s decision in the Jurisdictional Immunities of the State case. As Bianchi notes in his post, the ICJ is always very considerate of the systemic effects of its own rulings. Indeed, it was highly unlikely that the Court would uphold the claim that international law allows individuals to seek redress against a State before the municipal courts of another State for human rights violations. Especially as regards humanitarian law violations committed during the Second World War. Admittedly, as Bianchi adds, this would have opened the door to a flow of litigation before municipal courts that might have disrupted the whole system. However, as Bianchi observes, the problem is that the Court overdid it, by making sweeping statements on the scope of immunities under customary law, by downplaying the right of access to justice under international law and by adding remarks that may have serious repercussions on other related fields. Similar criticism has been leveled at the other immunity decision of the Court rendered in the Arrest Warrant case in 2002.

But the paragraph in Bianchi’s post which triggered Milanovic’s post is the following:

Finally, a word of praise for Judge Cançado Trinidade (who issued a dissenting opinion in this case) is in order. His lengthy opinions and his weltanschauung are often looked down on or frowned at. In fact, Judge Cançado is long engaged in an attempt to acculturate the international judicial bodies in which he seats and, more generally, the epistemic community of international lawyers. Suffice to cast a glance to the background, academic and/or judicial record of his fellow judges to realize how on certain fundamental issues at the ICJ he does not even belong to a minority: he is almost completely isolated. I trust he has realized by now that The Hague is a much colder place than San José. Yet his function remains fundamental. One could paraphrase Voltaire and say that ‘If Cançado did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’. Not so much for me or for any other more or less established member of the profession, but for all those students who approach the study of international law and want to believe in the redeeming force of human rights and universal justice for a better world. Here is another hand. Of this, I am quite certain.

Taking this a starting point Milanovic tries to answer the more general question: how exactly should we measure the effectiveness of a judge, particularly a judge on the ICJ? He provides statistics on the three-year work of Judge Cançado Trinidade. The criteria Milanovic chooses to measure effectiveness include an inquiry on what is the audience that the judge should seek to persuade and in what manner, a judge’s output in terms of individual opinions, and whether the judge is in the majority or not. From the tenor of his arguments it would seem that for Milanovic an effective international judge (at the ICJ) is one that looks inwards, refrains from writing long individual opinions because that is useless besides being costly, and is a conformist when in the minority! Read the rest of this entry…


The ICTY Appeals Judgment in the Haradinaj case

Published on October 11, 2010        Author: 

Dr. Gentian Zyberi was co-ordinator of the Albanian legal team in the ICJ’s Advisory proceedings on the Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Kosovo. He worked for the Defence in the Haradinaj case discussed below.


In its judgment dated 19 July 2010 the Appeals Chamber of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) partially quashed the acquittals of Ramush Haradinaj (Kosovo’s ex-Prime Minister and former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for the Dukagjin zone), Idriz Balaj (former KLA member, commander of the Black Eagles unit), and Lahi Brahimaj (former deputy commander of the KLA Dukagjin Operative Staff, member of the KLA General Staff).  Mr. Haradinaj and Balaj had been acquitted of all charges, while Mr. Brahimaj was found guilty of torture and sentenced to a term of six years’ imprisonment by the Trial Chamber on 3 April 2008. The Appeals Chamber ordered a partial retrial of the case, President Robinson partially dissenting. The President then proceeded to appoint a trial bench composed of Judge Moloto, Judge Hall and Judge Delvoie for this retrial.

Since this is the first retrial ordered by the ICTY in its 15 years of activity – it is surprising that so far this judgment has escaped the careful scrutiny it deserves regarding the legal standard applied and the conclusions drawn by the Appeals Chamber. The Appeals Chamber found that the Trial Chamber had committed a mistake of law by refusing the Prosecutor’s requests for additional time to exhaust all reasonable steps to secure the testimony of two witnesses, while the Trial Chamber had ordered an extension three times, and ordering the close of the prosecution case before such reasonable steps could be taken.  It stated that the Trial Chamber ‘failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat that witness intimidation posed to the trial’s integrity’ which ‘undermined the fairness of the proceedings as guaranteed by the Statute and Rules and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.’ (Appeals Judgment, p. 22, par. 49).

Problems with the Appeals Chamber reasoning

This Appeals Chamber Judgment is problematic for a number of reasons, few of which are briefly dealt with below. As the partial dissent pointedly chastises, on the issue of retrial the Haradinaj Appeal Judgment leaves open many more questions than it closes, giving the impression that a policy driven decision-making process disregarded the rule of law, the rights of the accused, and the legal and factual diligence due in handing down a decision of such importance (Partially dissenting opinion of Judge Patrick Robinson, pp. 129-130, par. 32).  It is a pity, because witnesses’ protection in international criminal proceedings and the role of discretion in securing a fair opportunity for the Prosecutor to be heard are unquestionably two extremely important matters for international criminal justice in general.

a) Substitution of the discretion of the Trial Chamber for its own

As the partial dissent of President Robinson points out (Partially dissenting opinion of Judge Patrick Robinson, pp. 116-120, paras. 1-9), the Appeals Chamber did not abide by its own rule that it will not lightly overturn decisions based on the Trial Chamber’s discretion. This is the first of a number of significant flaws and mistakes which weaken the Appeals Chamber’s reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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