Today, the ICTY issued its Judgment in the Seselj case. The Judgment of acquittal on all counts came as a shock to many observers. Followers of this blog will know that I believed Seselj should have been released years ago, when one of the Judges on the Trial Chamber, Judge Harhoff, was recused (see here, here, and here). I’ll return to the content of the Judgment in the coming days. One thing that struck me today is how the ICTY communications office has dealt with the acquittal.
If you look at the home page of the ICTY, there is no mention of the outcome of the Judgment, despite the Seselj case being one of the most important cases at the ICTY since it was created.
Basically, the first news about the Judgment to appear on the ICTY news page was not the outcome of the Judgment, but the OTP press release regretting the acquittal. I found this a little strange and tweeted:
@ictynews website homepage does not mention acquittal of Seselj but only OTP press releases & conviction of Karadzic… #AcquittalsAreBad
— Dov Jacobs (@dovjacobs) 31 mars 2016
Some would say that I was just being paranoid and that this does not mean anything.
However, a few hours later, the next news item was still not the outcome of the Judgment, nor was it the fact that the Judgment was now available online. No, it was a link the summary of the dissenting opinion of Judge Lattanzi, who would have convicted Seselj for all but one count. It’s still the case on the website now, but here’s the screenshot for posterity:
This “choice” by the ICTY media office makes it even more obvious for me that the ICTY is officially trying to put the acquittal under the rug.
As an additional confirmation, I checked the twitter feed of the ICTY. While, for the Karadzic Judgment, the ICTY did live tweeting, concluding with the following tweets:
#Karadzic is sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment.
— ICTY (@ICTYnews) 24 mars 2016
Tribunal convicts Radovan #Karadzic for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina: https://t.co/8XirffsX0U
— ICTY (@ICTYnews) 24 mars 2016
for the Seselj Judgment, things were very different:
As this screenshot shows, there is simply the announcement that the Judgment is scheduled, then no indication of the actual outcome, followed by the OTP press release.
Just to be sure one more time that I was not dreaming, I went back to the 15 December 2015 when the Stanisic and Simatovic Appeals Judgment was issued, and the ICTY news feed did indicate back then the outcome of the Judgment:
#ICTY Appeals Chamber orders retrial of Jovica Stanišić & Franko Simatović.
— ICTY (@ICTYnews) 15 décembre 2015
So, clearly, there is a decision made here to minimise the Judgment that was issued today. In other words, the ICTY seems to be ashamed by a Judgment rendered officially by one of its Chambers. Unsurprisingly, I find this absolutely appalling and it is a shameful conduct. The ICTY, as an institution, should stick by the decisions that it delivers, whatever the outcome. I have blackened dozens of pages and spent liters of saliva over the years, trying to explain to everyone that in a criminal law system that is healthy, we should respect the outcome of trials, even when it is an acquittals.
And then, the ICTY shows a total lack of respect for itself. What’s the point in trying in that case?
In the first screenshot that you posted above, the big picture in the centre of the screen is a link to the Trial judgment press release. It states beneath the picture “Trial Judgement in the case of Vojislav Šešelj delivered”. I haven’t looked at the Twitter feed, but surely this is sufficient as regards website? Perhaps they could have stated Vojislav Šešelj “acquitted” rather than that the judgment had merely been delivered, but the placement of the press release on the homepage seems fine to me.
Hi, Barrie. I’m talking about the newsfeed on the right of the picture, which never mentionned the acquittal, only the OTP presse release and the dissenting opinion. When you add the twitter feed to the mix and past practice of the tribunal (just last week, it was clearly indicated that Karadzic was found guilty), I do find this extremely strange. But it’s good that there are good natured people out there like yourself, who don’t see evil everywhere 🙂
Perhaps I’m being pedantic, but surely the lack of a link in the News feed on the right loses all relevance when there is a massive picture in the centre of the homepage linking you to the trial judgment.
In other words, even if the Karadzic conviction had a link on the homepage under the News feed (in addition to a picture link – I presume), I don’t see how the Tribunal is hiding the acquittal because they have a big picture link centre-stage on the homepage.
Having said that, I agree with your fundamental point that there is a general sense, especially beyond the walls of the Tribunal, that acquittals should be viewed with much more suspicion than convictions, which is problematic from a presumption of innocence perspective.
I see your point, but clearly the ICTY could not ignore the judgment entirely, but they did the bare minimum in my view.
As to your last point, I think we agree.
Allow me to be a bit facetious: isnt there some sort of ius cogens that compels every person on earth to try and put under the rug whatever that presiding judge does? 🙂