Category Archives: Sljivancanin

Sljivancanin Review Judgment at the ICTY

[UPDATE: here is a link to the Review Judgment, which should be online soon]

It’s a hectic day for international tribunals. The ICC held the confirmation of charges hearing for two sudanese rebels, Banda and Jerbo (see press release). More to the north, the ICTY Appeals Chamber was rendering its Review Judgment in the Sljivancanin case. Unfortunately, both took place at the same time. Because confirmation of charges take hours, I watched the ICTY hearing and will check out the confirmation of charges later tonight.

I’ve blogged several times on the ongoing review proceedings of the Appeals Judgment in the Sljivancanin case. Last December, the Appeals Chamber dismissed the motion for revision of the Appeals Judgment by which it had reversed one of the findings of acquital. In July this year, the Appeals Chamber granted the motion to review the Appeals Chamber Judgment based on new facts. Basically, the AC had considered, based on circumstantial evidence, that the Defendant must have been given elements in a conversation that would prove the required mens rea for aiding and abetting murder as a war crime. The new witness that came forward alleged that no such information was exchanged in that specific  conversation. The following comments are based on the hearing (here is the Judgment summary).
The AC first rejected all the Prosecution submissions contesting the credibility of witness and found that the new fact did in fact prove that the required mens rea was not present for the crime under consideration. The AC therefore vacated the additionationl conviction, in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The AC then quashed the sentence of 17 years imposed in the Appeals Judgment, reducing it to 10 years. There is a dissenting opinion of Judge Pocar (probably calling for remanding the case to the trial chamber for sentencing…) and separate opinions from judges Gunay and Meron.
The first thing to point out, which is already notable in itself for international tribunals, is that everything went as planned. No “however” coming at a late stage of the judgment to justify not taking into account the new evidence, no procedural sidestep to justify a longer prison sentence. All in a all, a simple and logical judgment.
Hearing it, I couldn’t help reflect once more on the mess this procedure turned out to be, even if the miscarriage of justice was avoided in the end, because of the actions of the AC. As I pointed out in previous blogs, we have just witnessed the compound effect of what are, in my opinion, debatable legal choices. 1) I don’t think that the AC should be allowed to reverse acquittals 2) if it is allowed to do so, it should not be allowed to “re-judge” the case, and it should be remanded to the trial chamber which is the trier of facts and 3) we have clearly seen the limits of the use of “circumstantial evidence” and “reasonable inferrence” ; indeed, in effect we just witnessed a de facto reversal of the presumption of innocence and corresponding burden of proof, with the AC making a finding based on nothing, and the Defendant having to provide evidence to prove his innocence…
One last point is the question of sentencing. It seems to be such an arbitrary procedure. The Presiding judge clearly states that the sentence for the torture conviction took into account the additional murder conviction, thus justifying today’s reduction. But we have two different crimes and I believe there shouldn’t be such a link between the two sentences. It’s about time, as I’ve said before, that we stop pretending that there is no hierarchy in international crimes, which in effect creates arbitrariness, and call for a clear scale of sentences in relation to each crime, as any mature system of criminal law should contain.
[UPDATE: There is of course the issue of the powers of the AC itself to increase a sentence imposed by the Trial Chamber. As pointed out by Judge Pocar in his (consistent) dissent on this issue, it is contrary to fundamental human rights for the AC to have this power, because there is no appeal of the new sentence by the Defendant. He would have therefore confirmed the original 5 year sentence, without any increase.]