Has Lord Ashdown Heard of the Phrase: “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”?

The arrest of Radovan Karadzic has predictably produced its crop of outrageous remarks from people who ought to know better but who, predictably, are incapable observing the niceties. Thus the likes of Lord Ashdown, Richard Holbrooke, David Miliband and a raft of others all speak of Karadzic as if he had already been tried and convicted. The little matter of holding a trial concerns them not.

They have already pronounced him guilty, very guilty, of the offences which are yet to be heard by the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Whilst the arrest of this man suspected of egregious crimes is welcome, not least because it brings the ending of the ICTY's mandate that much closer, it surely is disgraceful that public figures should thus pronounce him guilty before he has even arrived at the UN Slammer at Pompstationsweg in The Hague (one of the most luxurious nicks I have ever seen the inside of in thirty years of visiting clients in prison: my first client made such good use of the gym there that he turned himself from an average sized lad into a veritable bear of a man). This is particularly so in the case of Lord Ashdown who, of all people, ought to be circumspect, not least because Bosnian Serbs will hear his words and believe that he has always had a down on them and will view his period as the world's Viceroy through the prism of Ashdown's own infelicitous and premature words.

It reveals much concerning the great and good of the liberal left. Can you imagine the fuss they would make if it was Fidel Castro who had been nabbed for transfer to the International Criminal Court? If they spoke at all their sentences would be liberally sprinkled with many 'allegeds' and reminders of the fact that one is innocent until proven guilty and that nothing has as yet been proved. But for an old-fashioned nationalist deemed by the left to be of Fascist inclination who is charged with killing Muslims, no such constraint is required. He is guilty in their eyes and the trial which is now to be held is a mere formality.

Mind you the Tribunal itself is no great model. Its full title is "The International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991". It will be observed that the word 'allegedly' is strikingly missing from this mouthful. I can well remember the bitterness of indictees of all nationalities at this seemingly small but telling piece of presumption: they firmly believed that the Tribunal was a sham, a place for the conduct of Kangaroo Court justice and that they were to be the scapegoats for others who had either failed to deploy adequate political leadership (particularly in The West) or were much higher up the food chain than they.

Certainly the flavour of the ICTY in its early days was very much that it was engaged in a crusade to bring self-evidently guilty men to face their just desserts. In the first multi-defendant trial it held the Prosecution was highly arrogant and made it plain that they thought it would roll over us , much as an armoured division would roll over a cavalry regiment. In the event one of the four defendants was acquitted completely and the other three were acquitted of about half the charges they faced. Of the original prosecution team of four only one remained, the others having found better things to do with their lives than actually to have to fight the good fight every day.

I have no idea if Mr. Karadzic is guilty or not. We shall only know that when he has had his trial and his appeals have been exhausted. Then we can say with precision what he did and to whom. That can only be achieved after the holding of a fair trial at which he is able to challenge through counsel the assertions of those who have already pronounced him guilty. Until then the likes of Lord Ashdown ought to keep their own counsel, he not the least because he may yet be a witness at Karadzic's trial. His impartiality and objectivity are now most certainly utterly compromised.

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@ Michael Huntsman, author of this article

Just out of curiosity, what do you do for a living?  You mention that you've been seen the prison where Karadzic will be held because you visited clients in prison and I'm very curious to know how you had this opportunity...


@ Rob the...

1) One must make a distinction between a TEMPORARY judicial body like the ICTY, which has been set up for the purpose of dealing with a SPECIFIC problem (like the 'crimes' attending the dissolution of the former Yogoslavia), and PERMANENT bodies like the ICC in the The Hague.

2) In the case of the ICTY, the body was set up on a temporary basis by the UN Security Council, which gives major powers de facto veto power over its creation.  In such a case one can not talk about a "power grab", especially since there is no domestic judicial body that could properly deal with such crimes (Yogoslavia does no longer exist!).  In the past, similar special temporary courts have been created for other specific problems in the world (mainly in Africa). They are temporary band-aids, to deal with existing practical problems, not a power grab. And, above all, the US government can veto them (which provides some kind of genuine 'democratic' check on them).

3) By contrast, a permanent body, like the ICC or International Criminal Court, is a totally different 'animal'.  Since it is not part of a democratic political system, there can be no proper accountability.  Since it is a permanent body, it will undoubtedly over time engage itself selectively in certain issues, and not in others, thereby delivering 'selective justice' in line with prevailing political winds.  It will also try to superimpose itself on domestic judiciaries, which may (or may not) be more democratic and fair.  And since it is a permanent body, the damage it can do could be foreverlasting.