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Public Opinion Survey in Serbia Sheds Light on ICTY Legacy

Published on January 22, 2018        Author: 
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In anticipation of the closing of the ICTY, there has been plenty of discussion, including at EJIL: Talk! (see here), on the court’s impact in the former Yugoslavia, particularly relating to the public’s acceptance of ICTY findings and reconciliation. I’d like to contribute to this discussion with findings from the most recent public opinion survey conducted in Serbia – published in December 2017 (“Awareness of citizens of Serbia about the wars of the ‘90s, war crimes and war crimes trials” designed by the Humanitarian Law Center, commissioned by the Serbian daily Danas and conducted by Demostat – available only in Serbian here).

The latest survey mostly confirms what we already know from those previously conducted – revisionism and denialism are prevalent, and ethnic bias is entrenched – but it also provides additional information about these phenomena.

Revisionism and denialism

The latest survey confirms that there is overwhelming public distrust in the ICTY and its findings. For example, 56% of the respondents find the ICTY to be partial and biased, while only 6% believe the opposite. Almost half of the respondents consider that the ICTY didn’t contribute in any way to establishing the truth about the wars (p. 17). In line with the findings from earlier surveys, only 12% believe that what happened in Srebrenica is as established in ICTY judgments, while the ignorance pertaining to other ICTY-adjudicated crimes is even greater (e.g. regarding Ovčara 64% don’t know what happened, for the siege of Sarajevo it is 71%, for mass graves in Serbia 83%).

Serbia, through its highest officials, has a long record of refusing to accept findings made by the ICTY, particularly relating to the Srebrenica genocide. In 2015, upon Serbia’s request, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution intending to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Most recently, the Serbian Parliament amended its Criminal Code, supposedly in order to align it with the EU acquis, and criminalized the public denial of genocide but – and here’s the twist – did so only if the crime has been established by Serbian courts or the ICC. The amendment does not include the ICTY or ICJ – the only two courts which have adjudicated on the Srebrenica genocide. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Possibility of Disclosing Findings After a Detainee Dies in International Criminal Proceedings

Published on December 21, 2017        Author: 
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International criminal courts and tribunals have no jurisdiction over the dead. Such courts make factual findings that have reputational implications for those who have died, but the dead are not parties to a case. They cannot be bound by the power of a court. A trial chamber or appeals chamber that attempts to exercise jurisdiction over the dead is acting ultra vires.

The possibility of death before the issuing of the final appeal judgment is a particular problem in leadership trials. The accused are more likely to be older. Such trials are expected to take longer. They are inevitably stressful. These are structural problems that can be managed, but not eliminated.

In a trial where all the evidence has been submitted, a great deal of effort and expense has already gone into the trial even before the trial judgment is issued. In a single-accused trial, should the accused die before the trial judgment is issued, there is a sense in which this effort is wasted. No trial judgment can be issued. Bench memoranda and internal drafts are left unpublished. The machinery simply stops. Given the low level of proof required, any confirmation of charges or (at the ICTY) Article 98 bis decision does little to settle the disputes of fact and law that may have been at least partially resolved by a trial judgment. A similar situation might apply in a appeals process halted by the death of a detainee. The issues certified for appeal cannot be resolved by the appeals chamber if the appeals chamber lacks jurisdiction to do so. Similarly, proceedings may be stopped at a any stage if the accused is no longer competent to stand trial (e.g. Ieng Thirith).

What should be done? Trials should be quicker, which could be facilitated by limiting sprawling indictments and allowing more evidence to be submitted on paper rather than via viva voce testimony. The health and security of the detainees should be guarded and protected to the greatest degree possible, a point to which I will return. The general concerns for a speedy trial and the well-being of detainees are obvious, uncontroversial, and even banal, but should be addressed with more urgency than in the past. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Post-Truth and International Criminal Tribunals

Published on February 20, 2017        Author: 
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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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Understanding the ICTY’s Impact in the Former Yugoslavia

Published on April 11, 2016        Author: 
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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:

image001

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The Sorry Acquittal of Vojislav Seselj

Published on April 4, 2016        Author: 
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Last week a Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia acquitted Vojislav Seselj, an ultra-nationalist Serb politician, for crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and even Serbia itself. It did so by 2 votes to 1. Readers will already be familiar with the disaster that was the Seselj trial, which is now further compounded by the judicial fiasco that is the trial judgment. Fiasco is in fact the word used by the presiding French judge, Jean-Claude Antonetti, to describe the case in the conclusion of his profoundly dilettantish 500-page concurring opinion. This concurrence is a perfect sequel to his equally unreadable 600-page doozy in the Prlic case, and he uses it to blame everybody but himself for everything that went wrong in the case which is, well, everything. The judgment (in French) is here, as is the dissenting opinion of Judge Lattanzi (‘dissenting’ is not a strong enough word, as she herself says); the summaries of the judgment and the dissent in English are here and here.

Corax, Danas 4.4.2016.

There are so many problems with this judgment that it’s hard to know where to start, so let me paint you the big picture. The main issue is not with the acquittal, which may or may not be the appropriate result, but with how that result was reached. The entire judgment is a reductionist dismissal of the case presented by the prosecution, which is always taken as ungenerously as is humanly possible, while at the same time castigating the prosecution (without any hint of self-irony) for presenting a reductionist version of the complex reality of the wars of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

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

Published on April 1, 2016        Author: 
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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…