In one of the ongoing sagas of this blog, and on a day apparently dedicated to fair trial issues (see previous post), the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY issued a decision today granting the motion to review of the Appeals Judgment in the Slivancanin case. The Judgment had controversially added, with two judges dissenting, a new conviction for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws and customs of war. As I commented in the past, a first request for review for initially rejected. However, Counsel made a new motion based on the existence of new evidence, which was heard early June. It is this new fact as defined by article 26 of the Statute that compels the Chamber to allow the possible revision of the Judgment.
The new fact, which is witness evidence that the accused did not in fact express the mens rea for the crime in a conversation, contrary to what had been found by the Appeals Chamber. In accepting this, the Chamber finds that (p. 4):
Although the Panic New Fact was discoverable through due diligence by Sljivančanin’s counsel, review of the Mrksic and Sljivančanin Appeal Judgement is necessary because the impact of the Panic New Fact, if proved, is such that to ignore it would lead to a miscarriage of justice.
This is of course perfectly reasonable… but is a little ironic given the way the case unfolded. Indeed, the Trial Chamber had drawn no conclusion from the conversation between Mrksic and Sljivancanin under consideration. It was only the Appeals Chamber which inferred from the conversation that Mrkšić must have told Šljivančanin that he had withdrawn the “JNA” protection from the prisoners of war held at Ovčara, subsequently “relied on these findings to conclude that Sljivančanin possessed the mens rea for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war” (p. 3). How could the defense be expected to provide evidence on an event that the Trial Chamber had not even found as being relevant? It is only with the Appeals Judgment, where the judges are basically reviewing evidence as if they were the trial chamber, that the Defense can actually know what evidence it has to contest. That’s hardly compliant with fair trial rights!
The granting of the motion is obviously a step in the right direction for making sure those rights are respected, but it doesn’t remedy the profound flaw of a process which allows the Appeals Chamber to de facto review evidence as a Trial Chamber would and reverse acquittals without any possible appeal from the new conviction in clear contradiction with human rights standards.