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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…