A Danish news website has just published a leaked letter from the Danish judge sitting on the ICTY, Frederik Harhoff, blasting the ICTY President, US judge Theodor Meron. The letter seems to have been an email sent to a number of recipients, and it’s not clear to me whether it was originally written in English (PDF) or Danish (PDF) (my guess is Danish due to some of the language used, which doesn’t really work in English) or how exactly it was leaked. Judge Harhoff severely criticizes the ICTY Appeals Chamber for the controversial acquittals in the Gotovina and Perisic cases, claiming that Judge Meron exerted enormous pressure on his colleagues in order to obtain the acquittals, and that he did the same with regard to the Trial Chamber judges in the Stanisic and Simatovic case. Harhoff claims that Meron did so in order to protect the military establishments of powerful states, specifically the US and Israel, from expansive forms of criminal liability previously developed by the ICTY.
Choice quotes from the news story below. Needless to say, this is one of the worst scandals to engulf the ICTY in its history, regardless of whether Harhoff’s accusations have a basis in fact or not.
Harhoff is a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. His criticism amounts to a severe and dramatic accusation against the tribunal as a whole. He maintains that the American president of the tribunal has exercised ‘persistent’ and ‘intense’ pressure on his fellow judges to allow top-ranking officers to go free.
Harhoff’s five-page letter, the precise contents of which are confidential, was addressed to 56 people, including several lawyers. In the letter,Harhoff scrutinises and criticises a series of judgements acquitting Serbian and Croatian leaders.
“The most recent of these judgements have occasioned a deep professional and moral dilemma for me, one that I have never before experienced. The worst of it is the suspicion that some of my colleagues have been exposed to short-term political pressure and this completely changes the premises of my work to serve the principles of justice and reason”, Harhoff writes in the letter. He makes it clear that the development “has awoken deep concerns both in myself and other colleagues in the corridors of this tribunal”.
“It would seem”, writes Judge Harhoff, “that the military establishment” in leading states such as Israel and the US “felt that the tribunal was getting too close to top-ranking military commands.”
“Has an Israeli or American official influenced the American President of the tribunal to effect a change of course?” Harhoff writes in the letter.
Judge Harhoff states in his letter that the public “will probably never” be told to what extent his suspicion that the American President of the tribunal has influenced the result of the case for political reasons is true:
“But the report of the American president of the tribunal’s persistent pressure on his colleagues in the Gotovina and Perisic cases does more than suggest that he was fairly intent on arriving at an acquittal and especially that he was lucky in being able to persuade the ageing Turkish judge to change his mind at the last minute.”
The “ageing Turkish judge”, Harhoff refers to is the 77-year-old Mehmet Güney, who voted in November to release the two Croatian generals Gotovina and Markac.
Harhoff says that the new precedent “will in future and in the majority of cases allow the top-ranking person to go free. This means that American (and Israeli) commanders in chief can breathe a sigh of relief…”. Harhoff adds “I am left with the distinctly unpleasant impression that the tribunal has shifted course as a result of the pressure from ‘the military establishment’ of certain powerful countries.”
UPDATE: Marlise Simons has an article in the New York Times on the Harhoff letter, in which she also reports on comments by unnamed ICTY senior officials, which to an extent corroborate Harhoff’s allegations:
A spokesman at the court declined to comment on the letter. Other judges and lawyers were willing to speak, provided that their names were not used.
By their accounts, a mini-rebellion has been brewing against Judge Meron, prompting some of the 18 judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to group around an alternative candidate for the scheduled election for tribunal president this fall. Until now, Judge Meron had been expected to be re-elected.
“I’d say about half the judges are feeling very uncomfortable and prefer to turn to a different candidate,” said a senior court official. The official said he did not believe that American officials had pressured Judge Meron to rule a certain way in any case, “But I believe he wants to cooperate with his government,” the official said. “He’s putting on a lot of pressure and imposing internal deadlines that do not exist.”
Today, as the tribunal winds down it work, pressure over time is among the complaints heard from judges’ chambers. Several senior court officials, while declining to discuss individual cases, said judges had been perturbed by unacceptable pressures from Judge Meron to deliver judgments before they were ready.
After the only session to deliberate the acquittal that Judge Meron had drafted in the case of the two Croatian generals, one official said, the judge abruptly declined a request by two dissenting judges for further debate.
In his letter, Judge Harhoff also said that Judge Michele Picard of France was recently rushed unduly and given only four days to write her dissent against the majority decision to acquit two Serbian police chiefs, Jovica Stanisic and Frank Simatovic.
“She was very taken aback by the acquittal and deeply upset about the fast way it had to be handled,” said an official close to the case.