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Home International Criminal Law Archive for category "Genocide"

Ukraine v Russia at the ICJ Hearings on Indication of Provisional Measures: Who Leads?

Published on March 16, 2017        Author: 

From the day Ukraine submitted its case against Russia at the ICJ, one could expect that the case would be extremely politicized and difficult to adjudicate. Oral proceedings on the request for provisional measures held on 6th -9th March 2017 not only demonstrated that parties disagreed on the major points of the dispute, but also revealed that both parties had adopted “alternative facts”, at times making it difficult to grasp if they actually had the same dispute in mind. Ukraine’s position is that Russia violates ICSFT by continuing to support pro-Russian separatist armed groups in eastern Ukraine that engage in the commission of terrorist acts against the civilian population. Ukraine also claims that Russia pursues “policies of cultural erasure and pervasive discrimination” against non-Russian ethnic population in Crimea (see my blog). In its counter-arguments, Russia submits that the supply of weaponry originated from the old Soviet stockpiles inherited by Ukraine as well as the retreating Ukrainian army. Although widespread reports on the human rights situation in Crimea indicate marginalization of non-Russian ethnic population, as do the hundreds of pending individual applications before the ECtHR, Russia maintains that it is fully compliant with CERD and that “the views [of international organizations] on the status of Crimea often prejudge the attitude towards the situation in Crimea itself”.

Oral proceedings provide valuable insights into Russia’s litigation strategy. Russia maintains that there is no factual or legal basis for the ICJ to adjudicate, claiming that the issues between Ukraine and Russia relate to the legality of the use of force, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and therefore go beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. Russia accused the Ukrainian government of using the Court “to stigmatize a substantial part of the Ukrainian population” in eastern Ukraine as terrorists, and Russia as a “sponsor of terrorism and persecutor”.

Prima facie jurisdiction

The ICJ has to be satisfied on a prima facie basis that its jurisdiction is well founded in order to indicate provisional measures. Read the rest of this entry…

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Post-Truth and International Criminal Tribunals

Published on February 20, 2017        Author: 

With all the daily going-ons of our new era of resurgent populist nationalism, it’s no wonder that concepts such as ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ are so very much en vogue, or that Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian classics are once more hitting the best-seller lists. But the sad truth is that there’s nothing really new about ‘post-truth’, except that it is today afflicting developed, democratic societies that until now did not experience the phenomenon, or at least did not experience it in full force.

Trump photographed at Mar a Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the news of North Korean missile launch. Photograph: Erika Bain. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/13/mar-a-lago-north-korea-missile-crisis-trump-national-security#img-2

Nor did post-truth start in these societies just out of the blue – it was preceded by decades of democratic de-norming, institutional erosion, increasing polarization and identity politics (think, for example, of how climate change became a point of polarized partisan politics in the US, or of the distorting power and influence of the (mainly right-wing) tabloid press in the UK).

Even in democracies politicians are not a species generally known for its love of the truth. It is no wonder then that in a favourable climate a sub-species of particularly cynical manipulators who are either ready to routinely lie outright or are just simply indifferent to the truth will emerge. Coupled with the natural inclination of the human mind to evaluate evidence in a biased way and to reason about it in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs and protects one’s sense of identity, in much (most?) of the world post-truth politics are the rule, rather than the exception. Trump may be the most important exponent of the current wave of mendacious populism, but he is hardly avant-garde. For decades now, for example, many of the Balkan states have experienced their own ego-maniacal, soft-authoritarian mini-Trumps, and let’s not even mention all of the Putins, Dutertes and Erdogans out there.

Which brings me to my point. Post-truth and alternative facts have historically been perfectly standard when it comes to inter-group conflicts, especially in societies which are not genuinely pluralist. Pick any random group conflict in the world, and you are likely to find that each group lives and breaths its own particular truth. In our international legal community, many have thought that it is the role of international criminal courts and tribunals to generate the ‘real’ truths that will eventually garner acceptance in societies riven by conflict. Unfortunately, however, there is little evidence that such truth-generating potential is anything but theoretical.

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New EJIL:Live! Interview with Philippe Sands on his New Book, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Published on January 23, 2017        Author: 

In this episode of EJIL:Live! Professor Philippe Sands, whose article on “Reflections on International Judicialization” appears in EJIL vol. 27, no. 4, speaks with the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, Professor Joseph Weiler. Unlike other editions of EJIL: Live!, this episode offers a fascinating and moving discussion of Sands’ remarkable new book, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.

The conversation takes viewers along the many paths of research and discovery that Sands took in writing the book, beginning from a chance invitation to deliver a lecture in Lviv in 2010. In the conversation, as in the book, Sands explores the geographical “coincidence” of his own grandfather as well as Hersch Lauterpacht, founder of the concept of crimes against humanity, and Raphael Lemkin, who invented the concept of genocide, having their origins in the small town of Lviv. He notes that the big lesson he learnt from writing the book is that in order to understand the concepts we deal with in international law, we have to understand personal histories.

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Understanding the ICTY’s Impact in the Former Yugoslavia

Published on April 11, 2016        Author: 

As a follow-up to the ICTY extravaganza we’ve had on the blog in the past few weeks, I wanted to post about two companion articles I recently put on SSRN that readers might find of interest. The first is ‘The Impact of the ICTY on the Former Yugoslavia: An Anticipatory Post-Mortem’, and it is forthcoming in the American Journal of International Law; the second is ‘Establishing the Facts About Mass Atrocities: Accounting for the Failure of the ICTY to Persuade Target Audiences,’ and it will be published in the Georgetown Journal of International Law.

The AJIL piece looks at whether the ICTY managed to persuade target populations that the findings in its judgments are true. To answer that question, foundational for transitional justice processes, the article discusses the findings of a series of public opinion surveys in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia (designed by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, sponsored by the OSCE and conducted by Ipsos – detailed charts, mostly in Serbo-Croatian but some in English, are available here) and Kosovo (sponsored by the UNDP and conducted by a local polling agency, here and here).

The detail and amount of data obtained through these surveys provide an unprecedented level of insight into the reception of factual determinations by international criminal tribunals by target audiences. The surveys show that denialism and revisionism are rampant in the former Yugoslavia. For example, twenty years on, barely one-fifth of the Bosnian Serb population believe that any crime (let alone genocide) happened in Srebrenica, while two-fifths say that they never even heard of any such crime. The acceptance levels for many other serious crimes are in the single digits. They also demonstrate a strong relationship between the respondents’ ethnicity, their perception of the ICTY’s bias against members of their own group, and their distrust in the ICTY and in its findings, which increases the more the ICTY challenges the group’s dominant internal narratives.

Survey findings

This is, for example, how divided realities look like in today’s Bosnia (BiH Muslim/Croat Federation results on top; Republika Srpska at the bottom) – note that these are some of the most serious crimes committed in the Bosnian conflict, all of them addressed in major ICTY cases:

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

Published on April 1, 2016        Author: 

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. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICTY Convicts Radovan Karadzic

Published on March 25, 2016        Author: 

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.

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ICTY Karadzic and Seselj Trial Judgments Due

Published on March 21, 2016        Author: 

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.

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European Court Tackles the Definition of Genocide

Published on October 27, 2015        Author: 

Last week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered a very interesting judgment in Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania, no. 35343/05, in which it examined in detail the definition of the crime of genocide. This is another one in a series of relatively sui generis cases, mostly coming from the Baltic states, dealing with historical crimes and pleaded under Article 7 ECHR, which incorporates the nullum crimen sine lege principle. The basic issue in the case was that the applicant, who worked for Soviet security services and was involved in the killings of Lithuanian partisans, was convicted of genocide by Lithuanian courts after the resumption of independence by the Baltic states, under the new Lithuanian Criminal Code which explicitly had retroactive application.

The question that the Court had to answer, therefore, was whether the applicant’s conviction for genocide was reasonably foreseeable, in light of international law as it stood in 1953, when the crime was committed. The Court comes out terribly split on the outcome, ruling by 9 votes to 8 that the conviction was not foreseeable and that there was a violation of Article 7.

The majority and the minority both agree that customary international law at the time prohibited genocide, in parallel to the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also agree that the list of protected groups under Article II of the Convention, which is reflective of custom, deliberately excluded political groups. Thus, a conviction for genocide would not have been sound if the Soviets were ‘merely’ destroying their political opponents in Lithuania. But where the case really gets interesting is in the analysis of the ‘in part’ element of genocidal intent. Here the minority believes that it is perfectly fine to first define the protected group as ethnic Lithuanians, and then further define a ‘part’ of that group as Lithuanian partisans or opponents of Soviet rule. The majority, on the other hand, believes that while the idea of the ‘part’ of a group could foreseeably be thought of in numerical terms in 1953, it was not foreseeable that the part could also be defined in qualitative terms, as emerged from the case law of modern international criminal tribunals (para. 177). This last point is I think highly problematic, since those individuals convicted for intending to destroy a part of a group in modern trials could then also say that their convictions violated nullum crimen, since their crimes also preceded in time the jurisprudence of the tribunals who convicted them – that this happened by 5 or 10 years rather than 50 seems entirely immaterial.

On the other hand, accepting the minority’s approach to the definition of a ‘part’ of a group would expand the scope of genocide far beyond the approach taken so far in international criminal law. For example, if the applicant had intended to kill all gay Lithuanians or all disabled Lithuanians this would, under the minority’s reasoning as far as I understand it, also constitute genocide, even though sexual orientation or disability are not covered by the Genocide Convention. Both groups would be ‘substantial’ in number, much like the partisans. But in any event the whole case is yet another demonstration of the highly problematic and morally arbitrary nature of the definition of genocide, which is unfortunately coupled with the peculiar political magic that the word has. An excessive focus on that crime by prosecutors, judges and in public discourse only serves to systematically devalue other crimes against international law, be it in Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, or indeed in Soviet-controlled Lithuania.

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The Shameful Twenty Years of Srebrenica

Published on July 13, 2015        Author: 

In the great catalogue of human misery, the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide merits a special mention. But as horrible as the slaughter of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys was – unquestionably the worst crime of the whole brutal Bosnian conflict – the repeated, ongoing and unrelenting denial of the crime is if not worse, then at least as depressing. Today, twenty years on, that revisionist denial is strongest where it matters – in Republika Srpska and in Serbia – and its strength demonstrates the continued, long-term inability of these communities to come to terms with the past.

The denial is manifold, in forms both hard and soft. It ranges from a complete rejection that any crime took place, to disputing the number of victims or who the victims were, to emphasizing crimes against Serbs around Srebrenica or inflating the numbers of Serbs killed, to disputing the characterization of the crime as genocide as if that makes some actual moral difference. And, it needs to be said, that denial is virtually unaffected by whatever the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia or the International Court of Justice said on the matter.

To demonstrate the scale of denial in cold, hard numbers, it suffices to take a look at a February 2012 survey of public opinion in Bosnia, sponsored by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and the OSCE and conducted by Ipsos Strategic Marketing (detailed results on file with me). The survey found that of the (mostly Serb) population of the Republika Srpska only 59.2% say that they even heard of a massacre in Srebrenica, while only 34.8% of the people who say that they’ve heard of the crime believe that it actually happened. Thus, of the whole RS population 40.8% say they’ve never even heard of any massacre in Srebrenica, 38.6% say that they’ve heard of it but that it never happened, and only 20.6% believe it did. That, dear readers, is what ‘truth and reconciliation’ in today’s Bosnia look like.

Read the rest of this entry…

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What Lies Beneath the ‘G’ Word? Genocide-Labelling and Fact-Finding at the UN

Published on May 28, 2015        Author: 

In late 2013, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide warned that “there is a risk of genocide” in the Central African Republic (CAR). A year later, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) determined that genocide had not occurred because “the threshold requirement to prove the existence of the necessary element of genocidal intent ha[d] not been established…” (Executive Summary). Their answer seems clear, and yet this post will argue the Commission may have reached the wrong conclusion. In doing so, it will also draw attention to discrepancies between the UN’s classifications of genocide and raise questions about the powers of fact-finding bodies more generally.

It should be noted at the outset that the CoI left little doubt that serious crimes had been committed in CAR. Established at the request of the Security Council, the Commission had a mandate to investigate violations dating back to January 2013 when Séléka fighters began their march on CAR’s capital, Bangui. Though some of the worst violence took place on its watch, the Commission could not “establish with any degree of accuracy the number of people who were killed in the conflict.” Conceding that the available estimates “fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred”, it nevertheless concluded that “all the parties were involved in serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights including rape and other gender based sexual offences and violations.”

What about genocide?

The CoI’s analysis of this key question begins with the applicable law, where it notes that genocide requires the actus reus (‘specific acts committed against specific groups’), the mens rea of specific (genocidal) intent, and – in line with the Rome Statute’s Elements of Crimes – ‘a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against the targeted group’ (para. 450). Against this backdrop, the report establishes that the genocide label would prima facie apply only to acts committed by the Christian anti-balaka against CAR’s Muslims. Crucially, genocide would not be applicable to attacks committed by Muslims against Christians. The Commission then assesses the case law of several tribunals in order to distinguish ethnic cleansing from genocide.

This is where the legal analysis takes a perplexing turn. Before it has a chance to examine the legal elements of genocide, the CoI says (para. 452):

…the information available to it reveals repeated instances of crimes against humanity amounting to the fact pattern of ethnic cleansing committed by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims had been living. In terms of criminal responsibility, however, the Commission is of the view that these acts of ethnic cleansing would best be prosecuted with (sic) under the rubric of crimes against humanity, which is the crime category that is explicitly recognized in the Rome Statute and in the relevant legislation of the CAR… [T]he facts of the situation indicated that… crimes against humanity… capture the full essence of the policy of ethnic cleansing that was pursued.

There are two problems with this conclusion. Read the rest of this entry…

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