Monthly Archives: May 2010

Follow up: Garzon suspended

Apparently, the judge in charge of handling the charges against Garzon has ordered his trial to begin. This has triggered an emergency meeting by the General Council of the Judiciary who decided unanimously to suspend him.  It seems that he therefore will not be able to go to the ICC. I’m not sure how a national suspension affects the ICC’s capacity to hire or not someone, but that appears to be the situation right now.

Once again this decision has triggered some hyperbolic responses. According to a prosecutor at the Audienca National, his suspension would “put an end to the principle of universal justice”. Not universal jurisdiction, universal justice! For another commentator, his suspension would be catastrophic because he “symbolises international justice for citizens around the world”.
I’d like to stress that my position is not to defend the 1977 Amnesty law, or impunity for war crimes around the world, but just to bring some measure to the debate and define more clearly its parameters.
This being said, I remain astonished at how this situation is being considered. Like I said in a previous post, everybody seems to forget that Garzon was “just” a Spanish judge, not some super world prosecutor. He has a choice to quit and become an activist or go work for the ICC. But right now he is still a agent of the Spanish Judiciary and is bound by Spanish laws and accountable to his hierarchy. Once again, it is surprising to me at how little consideration and benefit of the doubt is given to the Spanish legal system.
Also, from a point of view of perceptions of Garzon as the symbol of “universal justice”, one has to question the foundations of the created belief in the first place. The human rights community created this symbol forgetting the national function of Garzon. He is an important element in the development of a general framework to fight impunity, but in no way does the future of “universal justice” depend on him.
On a related point, the human rights narrative functions on this idea of a threatened and fragile human rights minority under the threat of  the rest of the world. That is just not true anymore. The unanimity of the support for Garzon shows that. Of course there is still enormous progress to be made in the protection of human rights in the world, but the importance of the human rights movement and its impact, both in influencing countries and in international negotiations, such as the ICC, makes the “besieged discourse” far less convincing. The need to create outrage is understandable to obtain results, but this systematic hyberbolic discourse of repression seems to me to be slightly counter-productive on the long run, when you see the enormous advance of human rights in the last 20 years. 
Discourse creates expectations, and if you create too high expectations, they will obviously be disappointed. This could be the starting point of a general discussion of international justice in general, but let’s keep this for another time… 

You read it first on Spreading the Jam: Garzon at the ICC

Well, he’s not exactly the new prosecutor yet, as I predicted some weeks back, but he is getting closer to an institution that fits better his “world approach” to justice. Garzon has asked to be transferred to the ICC for seven months as a “consultant” for Prosecutor Ocampo. Not only is it not necessarily a good idea for the ICC to hire such a polarizing figure, but more importantly, should the ICC really be hiring someone who is under 3 investigations for judicial misconduct in his home country? The charges might seem “political”, but to the last of my knowledge, Spain is a European democracy (with some problems, but still, don’t we all have them?), not some third world dictatorship. I’m a little puzzled at how easily the proceedings are being dismissed as “merely” political. It is the same judicial system that allowed Garzon to operate for so many years on his progressive approach to universal jurisdiction. Or maybe i’m just naive… In any case, I really don’t think it looks good for the ICC to take sides on this one (which it will clearly be doing, even indirectly, by letting Garzon work for it).

Krstic gets attacked in a British Prison: new wounds show that old ones still open…

Radislav Krstic, the Bosnian-Serb General found guilty of complicity for genocide for Srebrenica was attacked in the high security British prison where he is carrying out his sentence. Apparently, the attack was conducted by three muslim detainees in retaliation for his war-time conduct. This of course raises serious questions on the conditions of detention and the incompetence of the British prison authorities.

It also raises questions on some of the more politico-philosophical issues surrounding international justice. One of the main arguments of the proponents of this form of mechanism to deal with past atrocities is that it fosters reconciliation. This is just one case, but it’s hard to see reconciliation happening when throats are being cut open. More generally, someone at the ISA conference in February (can’t seem to find the reference right now) was presenting figures of an opinion poll that showed that a majority of serbs still don’t think that something happened in Srebrenica (the bodies were in fact dummies, goes one version…) and those who do believe to a large majority that is was a legitimate war reprisal between combatants. Hardly a sign, once again, that things are moving forward.

More fundamentally, this event, three british muslims attempting to kill a Bosnian-Serb general for the massacre of bosnian muslims, shows the difficulty of defining the right framework for analysing international justice and its consequences. There are clashing logics in the narratives of international justice. Indeed, the initial logic of international justice is that certain crimes are such that they affect the international community as a whole and therefore warrant 1) to be qualified as international crimes and 2) be prosecuted before an international court. Tadic was a prime example of this kind of reasoning. More recently, with the transitional justice movement, discussions of reconciliation have attempted to “relocate” international justice within the national setting. But that is not entirely possible anymore because we have, through the cross-border universalisation of values and the setting of international justice within a “global community” logic, paradoxically weakened the relevancy of the local political entity, thus making the local impact less effective. In effect, by internationalising justice we have contributed to the internationalisation of the conflict itself, as the Krstic attack shows…

This is only a tentative reflexion on the articulation between the local and the international from a political and legal theory perspective (what legal order are we talking about? what social contract?) but I remain surprised at how little academic thought within the ICL community goes into the analysis of these general systemic questions. It might seem unimportant on the short term (“as long as justice is done somewhere…”), but the long-term consistency of the system depends on it.