French civil Court orders Karadzic to compensate Bosnian Family

According to an AFP report, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris has ordered Radovan Karadzic and Biljana Plavsic to pay 200 thousand euro in compensation to a Bosnian family living in France since the war. The Court found itself incompetent to consider the case against Krajisnic (the report does not say why) and requested additional information against Mladic.

In relation to Plavsic, the Court apparently relied on her conviction for crimes against humanity by the ICTY to find that she had committed faults in relation to the plaintiffs’ damage. One should recall that at the time, that case had created quite a stir because she had plea bargained her way to getting the genocide charges dropped.

As for Karadzic, whose trial is still ongoing, the Court found that (rough translation from the AFP report): “the simple fact that no definitive conviction has been reached cannot justify the status quo, which would necessarily create unjustified additional delays for the victims. The judges referred to the right of a victim of  manifest human rights violations to an adequate, useful and swift recourse”.

I’ll be careful of drawing too many conclusions from a news report (journalists are not necessarily known for their adequate reporting of legal news), but just a few thoughts.

First of all, I’m not aware of any such decisions before, of a civil claim against a current ICTY indictee (if my readers have any information on this…).

[UPDATE: Apparently Karadzic was also the object of civil proceedings in the United States in 2000, while still a fugitive and ordered by a jury to pay compensation. The article raises the question of whether the Republika Srpska could be held liable to pay the reparations, given that Karadzic himself most likely does not have sufficient funds. Also, French courts are definitely less favourable to plaintiffs: the 200.000 euro awarded in Paris seems like chump change compared to the 4,7 billion dollars awarded in the US…]

Second of all, I’m a little puzzled by the procedure. The Court’s affirmation that the absence of a criminal conviction is no reason not to go forward is in that respect interesting. For one, from the point of view of French law, there is, if I recall correctly a principle that “le pénal tient le civil en état”, which translates roughly as “criminal proceedings hold civil proceedings still”. This basically means that when both criminal proceedings and civil proceedings are ongoing, the civil court must wait for the criminal court to decide. Of course, there are not formal criminal proceedings going on in France, so you could say that the rule does not apply. However, the primacy of the ICTY over national jurisdictions actually bars any criminal proceedings for the same crimes in France, so in a way, Karadzic, being tried under a Chapter VII mandate by the ICTY in tried in the name of France. It seems like a convenient way to skirt around the primacy rule, to initiate civil proceedings when criminal ones are not possible.

Finally, I’m struck by the finding of the Court that “manifest” human rights violations require a particularly swift remedy. I was unaware that “human rights” had a different role in French tort law, or in tort law in general (nor what the qualifier “manifest” means for that matter). Why should human rights victims get better recourse than any other plaintiff before a civil Court? This is once again the sign of the way Human Rights has taken over so many branches of law and where moral considerations take over legal reasoning. But that is, I suppose, a different issue…

I’ll try and get hold of the decision and keep you posted if there is anything interesting in it.

One response to “French civil Court orders Karadzic to compensate Bosnian Family

  1. Thanks a lot for this post. Did you by any chance find the decision? I can't seem to find it on French websites. In case you manage to get hold of an online version of the full text, please do keep us posted on the blog.

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