Monthly Archives: May 2011

Khaddafi Arrest Warrant: Some Thoughts on Peace Vs Justice (non)-debate

Last week, the Prosecutor of the ICC announced that he was requesting arrest warrants again Khaddafi, his son and the director of military intelligence for crimes against humanity. The request has already been commented on on numerous blogs. Mark Kersten has produced an impressive number of posts over at Justice in Conflict. You can also read Dapo Akande’s post on EJIL Talk! and David Bosco at the Multilateralist.

This situation raises a number of issues that could fill entire books. In this post and the next, I will propose a quick series of comments on some of them.

Today, a few thoughts on the discussed political impact of the indictments.

Indeed, on the more political end of the debate, the issue has been raised on the effect of the indictments on Khaddafi, and whether this will really contribute to peace, or on the contrary push the regime into a corner from which it will be harder to dislodge it. In other words, it’s the traditional Peace Vs. Justice debate. I’ve always followed that debate with some puzzlement, because i’m not actually sure it’s capable of a solution, both methodologically and normatively.

Methodologically, how does one evaluate the two in order to measure failure or success of a given policy? Usually, beyond the entrenched positions on both sides (“no peace without justice” on the one hand, and “no justice before peace” on the other), it’s difficult to identify solid criteria that allow for a clear analysis. The two main obstacles, for me are the perspective adopted and the timeline.
As regards the perspective, it depends who is looking at the situation. For the immediate victims of mass atrocities, the answer might not be the same as for the bystander civilians who suffer from the conflict. While for a portion of the population, the simple end of hostilities is all they want, the victims and their relatives will want justice. How do we quantify these competing expectations?
As regards the timeline, what period of time do we look at to say that a solution worked? 6 months? 2 years? centuries? Today, policymakers tend to see things in extremely short term. We expect western democracy to work in countries that have never known it in a matter of years. The same goes with the oft-referred to, but elusive concept of “reconciliation”. I’m not sure we have the tools to know immediately the effect of a given policy. In fact, this debate always reminds me of the answer apparently given by a Chinese official when asked in the 70s about the impact of the French Revolution: “it’s too soon to tell”.

Normatively, even if you could identify in hindsight what worked, it doesn’t mean that you can draw conclusions for what might work in the next case. A typical example is amnesties. You can say that blanket amnesties sometimes allowed for a reasonably peaceful political transition, which gave way a few years later to prosecutions (e.g, Argentina). But this cannot be a model for future policy, because if you say from the start that the blanket amnesty will be repealed 10 years later, it kind of defeats the purpose of the amnesty in the first place.

More generally, linked to my previous point on the temporal dimension, if one reasons over centuries rather than decades, history shows that in fact all modern States were built on massacres without justice, and in most cases, there aren’t any obvious problem today (you don’t see the Italians holding a grudge against the Germans for the sack of Rome or the French holding grudges against Italians for the defeat in the Gallic Wars). Does that mean that this could be a model for today? Probably not, because the bottom line, is that at some point societies make moral choices, irrespective of utilitarian considerations.

Which brings me to my last point. The objective here is not to pass judgment on whether the moral choices made are sound or not. What is interesting is that, methodologically, the two “sides” of the debate are often not really talking the same language, so will never reach a compromise. In a way, and totally unoriginally, they are just continuing the age-old moral philosophy debate between utilitarians, who evaluate the goodness of an act through its consequences, and the proponents of deontological ethics, who look at the intrinsic goodness of an act (in a nutshell of course, there are other nuances to these two trends). It is certainly a fascinating debate, but unlikely to have a solution from an intellectual point of view, even if it seems that the “deontologists” have the upper-hand today.

In conclusion, because we have chosen a certain moral approach to justice today (which is still variable depending on the situation, as the debate on the death of Bin Laden showed), which implies accountability for certain acts, such as crimes against humanity, to put it bluntly, the issue of peace is irrelevant in that framework. It might not be the right choice, but even if they might be occasionally compatible in practice, we have to stop trying to pretend that we can reconcile the two conceptually.

The ICTY prepares for Mladic

As the procedure for Mladic’s extradition continues in Serbia and questions of his fitness for trial arise, the ICTY awaits his arrival eagerly.

First of all, the judges for the Trial Chamber have been assigned. Among them is Dutch Judge Alphonse Orie, which is interesting, given the Netherlands’ ambiguous role in Srebrenica. It is also ironic that a Dutch judge will be a part of accountability for what happened there, given that the a Dutch court decided in 2008 that the Netherlands were not responsible for what happened because they were under UN command, and that the UN itself could not be sued before a national court because of its immunity, thus removing all means of reparations for victims.

Second of all, the Court granted the Prosecutor’s request to amend the Mladic indictment, which he had filed… over a year ago! One could of course cynically think that the imminent arrival of Mladic explains the sudden interest for a request which has likely been buried in the “to do” box for a year… But the professionalism that defines the work of the ICTY should guard us from such cynicism and the delay probably only means that the judge has been extremely thorough in reviewing the request and its accompanying documents.

Third of all, as predicted in my previous post, Karadzic’s counsel has raised the issue of the effect of Mladic’s arrest on the Karadzic trial, and the question of whether a suspension and joinder might be an option.

BREAKING NEWS: Mladic apparently arrested!

The press is announcing that war crimes suspect Radko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia. The president of Serbia has confirmed this information in a press conference. He claims that this “closes a chapter” in the history of Serbia and its cooperation with the ICTY (although he did mention that Hadzic is still out there). I think this is wishful thinking. Because 1) the turbulent history of the Balkans and Serbia’s role in it will not just disappear with Mladic’s rendition to the ICTY. There will be a long trial which will delay any closure for many years. and 2) is sending Mladic for trial in The Hague really the way to deal with the past? I know that the ICTY has primacy over the case, but if I were Serbia, I would actually fight that and request to try him, under international supervision, in Serbia. The trial would definitely have more meaning in my opinion.

It will also interesting to hear the world leaders praise the arrest and the fact that Maldic will be brought to justice… just weeks after they praised the killing of Bin Laden as “justice being done”…

Finally, it will of course be important to see the effect of the arrest on ongoing cases at the ICTY. Let’s see Mladic, for example, prove that he is not the author of the diaries that were entered into evidence in a number of cases. Also, if I were Karadzic’s counsel, I would request a suspension of his trial and a joinder of cases, given the JCE that is claimed against both of them. That would create quite a procedural mess…

Follow-up post on Amnesties in Uruguay: when popular sovereignty defies human rights actvitists

I’ll be posting in Libya in the coming days, but for now a short follow up on the Amnesty law in Uruguay

A while back, I posted on the Uruguay amnesty law which has been universally condemned by rights groups and, at the time, found unconstitutional. In March, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights apparently condemned the law as well and in April, the Uruguay senate voted to overturn the law.

Well, last week, a vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the law failed. Apparently, there is some support for that law in the country, which, as I mentioned in my initial post, was approved twice by referendum.
Whatever one thinks of the law itself, there is clearly a clash of logics here. On the one hand, the universalist approach to human rights and on the other, the question of popular sovereignty. Indeed, this law is clearly not being imposed from the top by a dictatorial regime. It is, as far as I can tell, a reasonably functioning democracy. This certainly raises the question of the limits of outside intervention when a population chooses a certain path for itself and I find it disturbing that, in an era where “local ownership” is the new catchphrase, human rights activists are so adamantly trying to force a certain mechanism on a country which so clearly does not want it.

International Law Reporter is back!

I have been frustratingly unable to blog in recent weeks, despite some nice topics to cover (most notably at the ICC). I hope I can rejoin the world of blogging soon, when the workload relents…

In the meantime, a short announcement. The International Law Reporter, a invaluable source of information on recent publications for many years, had announced that it was shutting down last February. Apparently, Jacob Katz, probably by popular demand, has changed his mind, and the blog has resumed work this week.

Let’s hope it lasts!