magnify

Karadzic’s Genocidal Intent as the “Only Reasonable Inference”?

Sharing:
onpost_follow

As a follow-up to Marko Milanovic’s excellent post, I have some further comments on the recent Karadzic judgment, especially on the Trial Chamber’s bifurcated approach to the two genocide charges (acquittal re the municipalities joint criminal enterprise [JCE] and conviction re the Srebrencia JCE, see paras. 2571 et seq. and 5655 et seq. respectively). Before turning to the concrete points, I must present a caveat and a general commentary on the evidentiary standard.

The caveat refers to the quite delicate position of an academic commentator when analysing a trial judgment. Being myself a trial judge (albeit only in my second profession as the majority of my time is dedicated to my academic work) in a procedural system where the actual trial, governed by the principles of orality and immediacy, is considered the height of the proceedings, I am aware that nothing can substitute the direct impressions taken from the actual trial hearings, especially regarding the oral and immediate presentation of evidence. The academic commentator is more in the position of a judge at the appeal stage, in the sense of the French cassation or the German Revision, where the ensuing legal review of the trial court’s sentence is essentially based on the critical legal analysis of this court’s written judgment. Thus, my comments are the mere product of a critical reading of the respective parts of the Karadzic trial judgment, further limited by the natural margin of deference to be given to any trial court, and the restrictive ‘reasonable trier of fact’ appeal standard of international criminal proceedings.

This brings me to the evidentiary standard with regard to the proof of the subjective element (mens rea) of criminal law offences captured in the old Roman maxim, dolus ex re, i.e. the intent (mental element) (is to be) inferred from the external circumstances of the objective act (actus reus). This is nothing other than the modern indirect or circumstantial evidence which has taken centre stage in international criminal proceedings, especially as regards the proof of the special intent to destroy a protected group in the crime of genocide (paras. 550, 5825). Indeed, the whole genocidal case against Karadzic is based on circumstantial evidence, defined by the Chamber, referring to settled case law, as “evidence of a number of different circumstances surrounding an event from which a fact at issue may be reasonably inferred” (para. 14) and, in addition, requiring a highly demanding ‘only reasonable inference’ standard (paras. 10, 14). In concrete terms, this entails a double evidentiary test as the trial chamber must first be convinced that a certain inference is the only reasonable one and second, that all reasonable inferences taken together – as the totality of (indirect) evidence – prove beyond reasonable doubt the respective mental element and thus, ultimately, the guilt of the accused.

Let us now turn to my concrete queries. (more…)

ICTY Convicts Radovan Karadzic

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Yesterday the ICTY Trial Chamber convicted Radovan Karadzic, the wartime political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, for numerous crimes committed during the conflict and sentenced him to 40 years imprisonment. The (mammoth) trial judgment is here, standing at 2615 pages that not even Karadzic’s lawyers will read as a whole; the more accessible summary is here.

The end result is basically as I predicted it will be a couple of days ago – Karadzic got acquitted for genocide in Bosnian municipalities other than Srebrenica, and got convicted for everything else, including the Srebrenica genocide. The sentence is effectively life; he could be eligible for provisional release after serving 2/3 of his sentence, which would (counting the 7 years and 8 months he already spent in detention) mean he would have to spend some 19 more years in prison – but if he lives into his nineties he may get provisionally released, assuming of course that the sentence is affirmed on appeal and that he does not eventually get released on compassionate grounds.

On the vast majority of issues the Trial Chamber was unanimous (I’ll come to points of dissent later on), and that is a very good thing. All in all the judgment is basically exactly what it should have been, although the political reactions in the region are also exactly what one might have expected – while many Bosniaks welcomed the conviction they also decried the acquittal for genocide outside Srebrenica, whereas the current Bosnian Serb president has decried the judgment as yet another example of the ICTY’s anti-Serb bias. So far so predictable. That said, I will spend the remainder of this post on looking at some of the more interesting parts of the judgment, based on a very quick skim read.

(more…)

ICTY Karadzic and Seselj Trial Judgments Due

Sharing:
onpost_follow

This International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is due to pronounce its trial judgments in two important cases, against Radovan Karadzic, the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, on Thursday 24 March, and against Vojislav Seselj, the ultra-nationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, on 31 March. The Karadzic case is of course more important by far than the Seselj one, with (since Milosevic’s passing) Karadzic being the highest-ranked defendant with respect to atrocities committed during the Bosnian war. For our earlier coverage of the two cases, see here and here.

As I’ve recently explained elsewhere, the outcome of the Karadzic case is hardly in doubt – he will be convicted. The only question is what exactly for. He will also get a very long sentence, which will because of his age be tantamount to life imprisonment even if he doesn’t get that formally. Karadzic’s legal advisor, the excellent Peter Robinson (whom we’ve had in Nottingham last week for a seminar), is quite open about getting ready for an appeal (see Guardian report here). There is, in other words, not all that much suspense about what’s going to happen come Thursday, and the political reactions to the conviction in the former Yugoslavia are also equally predictable.

That said, what are the points to watch for in the judgment which may be of some genuine novelty? First, unlike with the crime base, which was already clarified in numerous ICTY judgments, it will be interesting to see what the Trial Chamber finds with respect to Karadzic’s individual guilt – what did he exactly know and when, what did he intend, and what specific joint criminal enterprise (JCE) was he a part of? This will be of particular relevance to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide – Karadzic certainly didn’t do anything to punish the perpetrators after the fact, but it’s important to see (or what the prosecution was able to prove about) what he knew  before the genocide started and while it was underway.

Second, Karadzic is charged with genocide not only in Srebrenica, but also in several other Bosnian municipalities, as is the Bosnian Serb general, Ratko Mladic, whose trial is still underway. In other cases the ICTY could find genocide ‘only’ in Srebrenica, with atrocities elsewhere being qualified as war crimes or crimes against humanity. This Trial Chamber has actually already found that the prosecution wasn’t able to meet the burden of proving genocide outside Srebrenica after a rule 98bis ‘no case to answer’ motion upon the conclusion of the prosecution’s case. This decision was later reversed on appeal, but it seems unlikely that the same Trial Chamber will find genocide to have now been proven to the higher beyond a reasonable doubt standard, except in Srebrenica. The Chamber’s finding will however be of great political relevance in the region, because of the particular corrosive potency of the word genocide and its impact on the competitive victimhood of the various groups, and will also be of relevance for the Mladic case. While I therefore expect acquittal for genocide in non-Srebrenica municipalities, it remains to be seen whether that will survive an appeal before the Mechanism, where the whole thing will be revisited.

Finally, as for Seselj the outcome there is far less certain, but expecting a conviction that would cover the time he already spent in detention would not be unreasonable. That case is more notable for its disastrous mismanagement and the consequent public relations nightmare than for anything else. Seselj is now in Serbia and has refused to go back to the Hague for the pronouncement of the judgment. The Serbian authorities (led by his erstwhile party comrades) similarly refused (if with a bit more diplomatic obfuscation) to arrest him and send him to the ICTY, because of the damage this could cause them in an election year. Three of Seselj’s advisers have been charged with contempt by the ICTY and they too have not been sent to the Hague, for the same basic reason. The Serbian authorities are essentially exploiting the ICTY’s impending closure and betting (probably correctly) that this lack of cooperation will not cause them significant political problems internationally.

An interesting couple of weeks ahead for the Tribunal – we will have more coverage as the events unfold.

ICTY Appeals Chamber Reinstates Genocide Charges in the Karadzic Case

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Just a couple of minutes ago the ICTY Appeals Chamber sitting in the Karadzic case reversed the Rule 98 bis judgment of acquittal rendered by the Trial Chamber last year (see my post on that decision for more background; the Appeals Chamber’s decision is not yet available at the time of writing, but a summary can be found here). The Trial Chamber had earlier decided that on the evidence presented by the prosecution, taken at its highest, no reasonable trier of fact could have found Karadzic guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Muslims and/or Croats in a number of Bosnian municipalities in 1992, the bloodiest year of the war. In essence, the Trial Chamber had decided that ‘only’ the 1995 Srebrenica massacre could be legally qualified as genocide, and Karadzic’s trial proceeded on that basis.

The Appeals Chamber now ruled that the Trial Chamber erred in fact when it made its findings with regard to the actus reus and mens rea of genocide in the municipalities other than Srebrenica. In particular, the Trial Chamber failed to take at its highest the evidence presented by the prosecution with regard to the existence of genocide intent, which it had to do when deciding on a Rule 98 bis, ‘no case to answer’ motion for acquittal. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber reinstated the genocide charge for the municipalities and remanded further proceedings to the Trial Chamber, which will now have to try Karadzic for genocide beyond Srebrenica. (Appropriately enough, the judgment was rendered on the 18th anniversary of the start of the Srebrenica genocide; for the avoidance of doubt, I myself see no moral distinction between genocide and ‘mere’ crimes against humanity, and Karadzic would have been no less the villain even if his acquittal was affirmed, but of course politically the G-word is a whole different story.)

The Appeals Chamber’s decision has a number of implications. First, most obviously, there will now need to be some reconfiguring of the Karadzic trial proceedings. Second, one can now foreshadow the fate of a possible Rule 98 bis motion in the ongoing Mladic case, which contains similar charges. Third, more importantly, it remains very unlikely, in my view, that in its final judgment the Trial Chamber will actually convict Karadzic for genocide in the municipalities – the standard for conviction is of course much higher than for rejecting a Rule 98 bis motion, the prosecution’s evidence need not be taken at its highest, and the same trial judges who previously said that no reasonable trier of fact could convict Karadzic are now hardly going to say that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fourth, consequently, despite today’s ruling it is also unlikely that an eventual acquittal will be reversed on the facts by the Appeals Chamber, because of the deference that the Trial Chamber will be due on its own findings of fact. Fifth, today’s judgment will receive a lot of political play in the region, especially in Bosnia. Finally, the whole thing may have repercussions on a possible Bosnian request for revision of the ICJ’s 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment, which found genocide ‘only’ in Srebrenica. As explained in my previous post, I don’t think such a request would either be wise or likely to succeed, but today’s judgment leaves the doors open, at least for the time being.

 

Karadzic Trial Chamber Finds No Genocide in Bosnia but for Srebrenica

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Today the ICTY Trial Chamber trying Radovan Karadzic, the former president of the Bosnian Serbs, delivered an oral order on the defendant’s ‘no case to answer’ motion for acquittal under Rule 98 bis of the ICTY RPE, under which the Trial Chamber shall, by oral decision, and after hearing the oral submissions of the parties, enter a judgement of acquittal on any count if there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction. The standard for doing so is whether a reasonable trier of fact could be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused’s criminal responsibility on a particular count of the indictment.

A press release on the order is available here. A formal written decision will follow. In a nutshell – and this is hardly news – the Chamber upheld 10 counts of the indictment, finding that a reasonable trier of fact could be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Karadzic was criminally responsible through a JCE for the crimes alleged, including the Srebrenica genocide. What is news, however, is that the Chamber granted Karadzic’s motion with respect to the count charging him with genocide outside Srebrenica in July 1995, in selected other municipalities in Bosnia:

(more…)

The (Aborted) Start of the Karadzic Trial

Sharing:
onpost_follow

The trial of Radovan Karadzic at the ICTY was supposed to begin this morning, but, true to his word, Karadzic decided to boycott the trial because he was allegedly not given enough time for preparation. In reality, however, it has been more than a year and three months since his transfer to the Hague – time that he spent wastefully, mainly by bombarding the Tribunal, states, and the public with his theories regarding an alleged immunity deal with Richard Holbrooke, that he claimed was somehow supposedly binding on the Tribunal (for our earlier coverage, see here, and for some discussion see here). The proceedings will resume Tuesday afternoon, and we shall see what the judges make of it.

That the trial is off to a rather bumpy start is of course entirely the Tribunal’s own fault – not because it denied Karadzic adequate time for preparation, but because it allowed him to represent himself in the first place. The ICTY’s overly generous (to put it mildly) approach to self-representation, first in the Milosevic and then in the Seselj cases (see more here), quite simply allowed determined defendants to turn the courtroom into a circus. It is not just deeply flawed legally, practically, and symbolically – it also in my view rests on a mistaken psychological assumption: that the defendants in question actually wish to persuade the judges of their innocence.

But high-ranking defendants want no such thing. It is not the judges who are their intended audience – they perform for the history books, and for those same besotted masses whom they once led and whose fate they still want to control. They wish to validate their own heroic self-image; the courtroom is only their final stage, and the judges a part of the decor. They do so not just because of the narcissistic, prima donna personality that is almost invariably a part of the pathological mental make-up of a successful politician/war criminal. Rather, they are in a sense perfectly rational in their irrationality. That they have nothing to gain by having counsel defend them to the best of their ability is plain – either they already know that they are guilty, or they believe that there’s a conspiracy out to get them, of which the judges naturally form part.

(more…)

ICTY Appeals Chamber Denies Karadzic’s Immunity Motion

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Yesterday the ICTY Appeals Chamber issued (what is to be hoped is) the final decision in the Karadzic/Holbrooke immunity agreement saga. For previous commentary on the issue at EJIL: Talk!, see here and here. Though the Appeals Chamber had some quibbles with the Trial Chamber’s approach in denying an evidentiary hearing, accepting facts alleged by Karadzic pro veritate, and then discounting them, it nonetheless (quite rightly) dismissed Karadzic’s appeal.

Thus, the Appeals Chamber held that even if the alleged Karadzic immunity agreement existed, and was made with the actual authority of the Security Council (not merely an apparent authority, as Karadzic contended), this agreement could still not alter the jurisdiction of the Tribunal without a Security Council resolution to that effect (paras. 34-38). Likewise, the Chamber held that not even an agreement entered into by the Prosecution could bind the Tribunal itself (para. 41), and that Karadzic could not avail himself of the abuse of process doctrine. Like the Trial Chamber, the Appeals Chamber allowed Karadzic to pursue the Holbrooke agreement issue insofar as it may be relevant to sentencing and mitigation (paras. 54-55).

ICTY Trial Chamber’s Decision on Karadzic’s Holbrooke Agreement Motion

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Today the Trial Chamber of the ICTY presiding over the Karadzic case rendered its decision on the defense challenge to the ICTY’s jurisdiction on the basis that Karadzic had entered into an agreement with Richard Holbrooke that promised that he would not be prosecuted. This is the latest of Karadzic’s attempts to invoke this alleged agreement between him and Holbrooke, albeit now with the help of two theories, the first being that Karadzic was an agent or acted with actual or apparent authority of the UN Security Council or the ICTY Prosecutor, and the second that it would be an abuse of process to try Karadzic who could have reasonably relied on the putative agreement.

The Chamber quite rightly (despite what my friend Kevin Heller might say), and unsurprisingly, rejected Karadzic’s motion. It also rejected his request to hold an evidentiary hearing on the disputed facts regarding the alleged agreement, stating at para. 46 that ‘If the Accused cannot obtain the relief he seeks as a matter of law, then the issue of whether the Agreement was ever made is irrelevant to any issue other than sentence, on which evidence may be led at trial. The Trial Chamber rejects the Accused’s submission that not having an evidentiary hearing at this stage would be a disservice to history. The Chamber’s purpose is not to serve the academic study of history.’

Did Holbrooke promise Karadzic that he would not be prosecuted? Probably. But so what? It simply boggles the mind that a reasonable war crimes suspect (if we grant Karadzic the ‘reasonable’ part) could rely on a purely oral, furtive promise by a US envoy as a binding legal guarantee, or indeed that he saw Holbrooke as an agent of the UNSC or, even less so, of the Prosecutor. Even assuming that Karadzic saw Holbrooke as acting on behalf of the UNSC, Karadzic could only come up with a strained agency theory plucked from domestic law in support of his argument that an agreement between Karadzic and the UNSC would bind the ICTY even in the absence of a subsequent UNSC resolution, as the Chamber correctly points out at para. 58.

However, don’t expect that this decision will put an end to the Holbrooke agreement matter. This is Karadzic’s favourite theme, and it will keep coming up. Indeed, the Trial Chamber has allowed Karadzic’s legal advisers to continue with their agreed-upon interviews of Carl Bildt and UN officials, stating that this might have relevance for Karadzic’s eventual appeal and sentence.

Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Codification of the Crime of Genocide – a Blessing or a Curse?

Sharing:
onpost_follow

Editor’s note: This is the first post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. 

Codification of the crime of genocide

A lot has been written about the origins of the crime of genocide that need not be repeated here. It is well known that Lemkin originally saw genocide as a broad concept, i.e. as different acts aimed at destroying the culture and livelihood of groups (Axis Rule in Occupied Power, pp. 79-82). Along the same lines, the 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 96 described genocide as the denial of the right of existence of entire human groups – including political ones. However, the scope of the definition adopted in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was significantly narrower. Cultural destruction and forcible population transfer were not included in the final text, protected groups were restricted, and jurisdictional reach limited. Yet, the Convention must be understood in the context of time. Indeed, having in mind the historical background, it is quite remarkable that the Convention was adopted at all – and broad support was generated by making concessions and imposing more stringent requirements.

Since the Genocide Convention defined and codified the crime of genocide as an independent crime, the definition of genocide has remained firmly settled in international law. Perhaps prematurely, the ICJ had already proclaimed its customary status in 1951, which was subsequently fortified by the verbatim reproduction of Article II of the Genocide Convention in the statutes of international ad hoc tribunals (here and here) as well as the Rome Statute of the ICC. This surely contributed to legal certainty and, from this perspective, codification can be viewed as a blessing for the relatively consistent application of the definition of genocide at the international level. Yet, simultaneously, it was a curse, preventing the crime from undergoing a development similar to that of crimes against humanity and even war crimes. This downside of the early codification could have been at least partially addressed through teleological and evolutive interpretation of the offence. The international tribunals, however, failed to realize the potential of the definition and thus contributed to frustrations surrounding prosecutions of genocide as well as to claims that genocide today is a redundant crime. (more…)

First and Second Degree Genocide? Considering a Case for Bifurcation of the Law

Sharing:
onpost_follow

At its inception, the crime of genocide, which broadly concerns criminal conduct targeted at a group, was generally seen as somehow more culpable or aggravated than international crimes targeted at an individual. Critical opposition to that view exists (See Milanović on the Karadžić and Mladić Trial Chamber judgments). Contemporary application, however, of the law continues to consider genocide as “horrific in its scope” precisely because perpetrators identify “entire human groups for extinction” and “seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide” (Krstić, Appeals Chamber judgment, para. 36).

The Appeals Chamber in Krstić has emphasized that the gravity of genocide is “reflected in the stringent requirements which must be satisfied before this conviction is imposed” (para. 37). This includes proving a specific intent to destroy a group such that the group targeted for destruction was either the whole “protected group”, or a “substantial” part of that whole (the “substantiality test”). Where the requirements are satisfied, the Appeals Chamber implores that “the law must not shy away from referring to the crime committed by its proper name” (para. 37).

My contention is that the law in fact has shied away from referring to the crime of genocide by its proper name. (more…)