UN Judge Theodor Meron, the president of the Mechanism of International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which was established to perform a number of essential functions previously carried out by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”), has been widely criticised both in international and local media over his role in influencing fellow judges to free the convicted Rwandan genocidaires.
The undue influence of Judge Meron to his fellow judges didn’t start just recently, but started way back when both the ICTR and the ICTY had a shared Appeals Chamber. What is happening today is a continued sheer of his ulterior motive.
The most recent startling development was the release of two convicted Genocide masterminds, Ferdinand Nahimana and Father Emmanuel Rukundo who had been serving their sentences in Mali. Judge Meron’s influence has been markedly manifested at the appellate level in cases of Protais Zigiranyirazo, Justin Mugenzi, Prosper Mugiraneza, Augustin Ndindiriyimana, Francois Xavier Nzuwonemeye to name but a few.
The issue of Judge Meron was first published in June 6, 2013 in a leaked letter from the Danish judge sitting on the ICTY, Frederik Harhoff, blasting the ICTY President [US judge Theodor Meron]. The letter was sent to a number of his [Frederik] colleagues.Judge Harhoff severely criticised Judge Meron, who was by then the President of ICTY Appeals Chamber, for the controversial acquittals in the Gotovina and Perisic cases, claiming that Judge Meron exerted enormous pressure on his colleagues in order to obtain the acquittals, and that he did the same with regard to the Trial Chamber judges in the Stanisic and Simatovic case. Harhoff claimed that “Meron did so in order to protect the military establishments of powerful states, specifically the US and Israel, from expansive forms of criminal liability previously developed by the ICTY.”
Subsequent to Frederik’s criticism, it attracted international opprobrium against the tribunal as a whole. And many international law lawyers questioned his impartiality and neutrality principles that ordinarily form code of ethics of judges. It is indeed startling to imagine of such a weird pressure exercised persistently and intensely on his fellow judges to allow top-ranking officers to go scot free.
At this point, it is true to say Judge Meron’s calibre has been utterly compromised with the principles of justice expected of him given his sound legal prowess. Drawing from the fact that in some cases he has been influenced by the USA, or perhaps UN Security Council, Judge Meron is inclined to serve some political interests of some states or individuals, rather than interests of justice. Whatever the interest it profoundly undermines his professionalism and moral integrity given his high calibre.
Judge Meron’s influence on his fellow judge, needless to say, is one of the worst scandals to engulf the UN ad hoc tribunals in history. In any event, Harhoff whistle-blowing has a modicum of truth. To me, given the number of acquittals and remissions for the Rwandan génocidaires and those under jurisdiction of the ICTY, it is a scandal on the same scale as Watergate.
Though some commenters have called Harhoff’s accusations baseless, I think it would be a mistake to simply dismiss them as a conspiracy theory.
In fact, this matter raises a number of issues.Firstly, it appears to indicate that the era of leaks and whistleblowers we live in may have begun to infiltrate the international judiciary. This, however, doesn’t mean that what is divulged by whistleblowers is untrue. Today, it is quite difficult to sweep the bad intent under the carpet for good. Secondly, with regard to the substance, it would appear unlikely that the public will ever get to see any hard evidence through formal channels. This may mean that it does not exist and the allegations are unfounded. But it could also mean that it has not been disclosed. In this context, I think, time was ripe for the truth to come to light. Hadn’t Harhoff revealed this startling tricks played inside the court or in deliberation, the reality would have remained in suspicion or perhaps go unnoticed. Indeed, I don’t think the whole thing can just be dismissed as a conspiracy theory and leave it at that.
Given the impact of past and recent acquittals and remissions of perpetrators to the victims of genocide and other heinous crimes, I strongly urge the UN Security Council to launch investigations in the ongoing claims against Judge Meron. The fact the Mechanism of International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) is subsidiary organ of the UNSC, it has a moral obligation to bring the truth to light. At this point, the MICT portrays a travesty of international justice.
UN Security Council has an inherent obligation to ensure impartiality, neutrality, and the independence of judiciary, especially to its subsidiary organs. Equally, it has to be guaranteed by all States as it is done domestically. It is the duty of all governments and international organisations to uphold the core principles of justice to serve the interests of justice.
The writer is an international law expert.