The other day we did a post on charges roiling the UN’s war crimes tribunal at the Hague: that an American-Israeli judge was working to acquit Serb and Croat leaders who had been convicted of war crimes so that the precedent would not ensnare American and Israeli officials.
Well today, the Danish publication Information has a piece based on Wikileaks cables, showing that presiding judge Theodor Meron, an American-Israeli, was in touch with US officials.
Now documents from 2003 made public by WikiLeaks show that Meron had close and confidential relations with the United States government in his first term as President of the ICTY.
»It is the perception among my former colleagues that the tribunal president takes instructions from the US government. And the WikiLeaks documents certainly do not help his case,« a former legal adviser at the Tribunal said…
At the end of last year judge Meron and some other judges started acquitting Serbs and Croats who had been convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Trial court in the Hague – people whose conviction earlier on most likely would have been upheld in the Appeals chamber.
The documents found on WikiLeaks website corroborate to a certain extent the assertions put forward by [Danish Judge Frederik] Harhoff. In two diplomatic cables sent from the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands in 2003 during Mr. Meron’s first term as President of the Tribunal he is described as coordinating his views on the court’s work with the US government….
”The perception among my colleagues is that Meron takes instructions from the US government and that this reigning in of the legal standards – as we have seen with the acquittals – would have implications for the US and probably Israel. And WikiLeaks does not help him,” said a former legal advisor to the tribunal who wished to remain anonymous in order to avoid putting his career opportunities at risk.
The legal standard at issue would obviously put American and Israeli leaders in a tight spot if war crimes prosecutions ever eventuate from Pakistan or Gaza:
Harhoff claimed the recent acquittal of two Croatians and three Serbs is contrary to the previous standard, by which top commanders are held responsible for crimes committed by subordinates in the former Yugoslavia.
As far as Meron’s critics are concerned the U.S. and Israeli government are deeply worried about the traditional doctrine of command responsibility. Until the recent acquittals it was sufficient for the prosecutor to prove that a military commander or political leader was aware of the risk that subordinates or forces allied with his army or government would commit a war crime in order to get a conviction.
Under this practice, political leaders and high-ranking officers in the United States and Israel ultimately could risk being held responsible for war crimes committed by their soldiers or by foreign forces that their governments support with arms.
That Mr. Meron’s and his family were victims of the Holocaust has made the controversy surrounding the use of a new legal standard to acquit convicted war criminals even more fascinating for outsiders….
Meron was born in 1930 into a Jewish family in Kalisz, Poland. Following the war he emigrated to Israel where he studied law at Hebrew University; later he graduated from Harvard Law School. He told the BBC that his initial interest in international criminal law was prompted by his (undoubtedly horrific) experiences during the war, although he now felt he had put this chapter behind him.