…from the quill of Antisthenes the Younger
There is a problem in the system – or is it a systemic problem? EU way? Or something else altogether? As you may have noticed, an apparent clerical error prompted judges to postpone the long-awaited war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladić, possibly for months.
Presiding judge Alphons Orie said he was delaying the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal case due to “significant disclosure errors” by prosecutors, who are obliged to share all evidence with Mladic’s lawyers. Prosecutors had already acknowledged the errors and did not object to the delay. Mladic’s attorney has asked for six months to study the materials.
General Mladić is accused of commanding Bosnian Serb troops during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, who, it is alleged, waged a campaign of killings and persecution to drive Muslims out of territory they considered part of Serbia. The worst, and best remembered, example is the execution of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. During the war over 100,000 people on both sides died.
In July 1995, Mladić was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for genocide, crimes against humanity, and numerous war crimes. In July 1996 the Trial Chamber of the ICTY, issued an international arrest warrant. He was arrested sixteen years later, in May 2001 and extradited to The Hague. His trial before ICTY began in June 2011. Mladić denies wrongdoing and has refused to enter pleas to the charges. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
I have no desire to comment on the guilt or otherwise of General Mladić. Wars are nasty, and often bring the worst (and sometimes the best) out of men. It just occurred to me that ‘errors’ of this kind are rare, and in matters of this significance should be exceedingly so. I recall being told, and heard other lawyers being told, by a judge that the problem, while it is in your office, may be a typist’s or a clerical error, but once it leaves your office, it is your error. In the case of Hague tribunal, it is you, the overpaid and under-worked lawyer, who is responsible. Blaming the staff is the weasly, EU way. Unless…
Unless the Prosecutor Serge Brammertz does not have sufficient evidence to present a convincing case against Mladić. It is clear that atrocities occurred, but the connection to the ultimate commanding officer may be missing. In that case, the prosecution, and the tribunal, would welcome the postponement, the longer the better. Seventy years old General Mladić has had three strokes already.