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The Appearance of Justice

April 11, 2016

On 24 March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia pronounced a verdict against Radovan Karadzic – former President of Republika Srpska and now a convicted war criminal. Parallel to that another event concerning administration of justice occurred. Florence Hartmann, journalist and former spokeswoman of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Tribunal, was arrested in front of the ICTY. The arrest of Florence Hartmann did not receive much of the global media attention. Naturally, Karadzic verdict was perceived as more important to report on especially as it was interpreted as pointing towards international community’s dedication to end impunity. However, Hartmann’s arrest actually represented an announcement of the scandal to come: the ICTY’s self-damaging of reputation caused by apparent violation of the basic principles of its establishment.

Karadzic verdict – delayed justice

The ICTY was established “for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1 January 1991 and a date to be determined by the Security Council upon the restoration of peace” with the aim to “contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace” (UN Security Council Resolution 827, 25 May 1993). Karadzic was found responsible and guilty for genocide in Srebrenica, crimes against humanity (sexual violence and rape being one of the underlining acts of persecution and cruel and inhumane treatment as crimes against humanity) and violations of laws or customs of war. The judgment and sentence fell short of providing the victims with the feeling that full justice had been served. What was perplexing was the list of mitigating circumstances that the Chamber considered while deciding on the sentence: due regard to age of the accused, fact that he resigned from public and party offices upon the end of war (even though at that time the indictment against him was already brought before the ICTY) and his expressions of regret/sympathy for the victims of the crimes (for which the Chamber stated does not amount to remorse as such). An imperfect justice served 20 years too late does little for restoration of peace and the dignity of victims and society at large.

When dedication to justice becomes punishable

Still Karadzic’s verdict and sentence could even be accepted as falling under the principle of the discretion of the judges, if it was not for the other events that unraveled around the same time. Florence Hartmann’s arrest was just one part of that puzzle. Hartmann was arrested in connection to her previous trial before the ICTY for contempt in which, in 2011, she was found guilty of “having knowingly and willfully interfered with the administration of justice by disclosing the contents, purported effect and confidential nature of two decisions of the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY from the case of Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milosevic.” What she actually published was the information that “the ICTY judges kept key material from the public for the sole purpose of shielding Serbia from responsibility before another UN court,” namely International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Hartmann refused to pay the monetary fine and an arrest warrant was issued by the ICTY but it was only when she joined the victims in front of the ICTY to hear the pronouncement of the Karadzi’s verdict that she was arrested. The controversy did not stop there. The urgent request for her release was met with silence from the ICTY as they were on the Easter Holiday Break and there was apparently no person appointed to deal with the urgent requests. Consequently, Hartmann was released after serving the standard of two thirds of sentence established for war criminal’s releases.

Hartmann ended up in a prison built for war criminals for her dedication to justice and insistence on ICTY’s responsibilities arising out of its mission to bring justice to victims and to contribute to restoration of peace.

Women’s justice

A few days after Hartmann’s release, on 31 March 2016, the ICTY judges, in a majority verdict, rendered the judgment in case of Vojislav Seselj (Serbian nationalist politician and the president of the far-right Serbian radical party) acquitting him of all charges brought against him for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is probably the greatest embarrassment for ICTY to date. In Seselj’s case, the judges demonstrated full disrespect for the ICTY, ignoring and undermining previous ICTY decisions and its legacy by making errors of law and errors of fact. However, the only female judge in the Trial Chamber, Flavia Lattanzi, dissented to the acquittal decision, stating among other things:On reading the majority’s Judgment, I felt I was thrown back in time to a period in human history, centuries ago, when one said – and it was the Romans who used to say this to justify their bloody conquests and murders of their political opponents in civil wars: “silent enim leges inter arma” (“In time of war the laws fall silent” (Cicero Oratio pro Milone, 52 B.C.).).”

Justice unsatisfied

With such unfolding of events the ICTY, in its final stage of handing out justice and contributing “to the restoration and maintenance of peace”, once again demonstrated how disconnected it is from the countries of former Yugoslavia. The Seselj verdict was also a demonstration of its ignorance towards the establishment of the international criminal justice and a powerful reminder to the victims and the society at large how manipulative and evasive justice can be.

The events also showed us that women that serve justice show more integrity and dedication to international justice and peace but keep being punished for that dedication – Hartmann was arrested and spent 5 days in prison, while judge Lattanzi (unlike her male colleague, the presiding judge in Seselj’s case) was not elected for the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) established for continuation of the ICTY jurisdiction, rights and obligations and essential functions, as well as to maintain the legacy of ICTY and ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda).

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