There is a joke among lawyers “a man who defends himself in court has a fool for a client.” Radovan Karadzic is in court defending himself against genocide charges in The Hague. Like Slobodan Milosevic, he is defending himself in court without even the most basic legal training, therefore making a mockery of the international justice system.
He will have to review some 1.2 million documents of evidence; that would still take a team of 500 lawyers almost 5 years just to catalogue and file.
There in lies the problem, our international laws on crimes against humanity are outdated, unenforceable, and even when they get to court – the burden rests with the prosecution and favours the defendant.
Even after the worst genocide in history – the mass-gassing to death of more than 6 million Jews in WWII, there was no international law against what Hitler had done.
It was the tireless work of a Jewish legal scholar called Raphael Lemkin that gave us both a legal definition and the coining of the word “Genocide” in 1948.
The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide (CPPCG) was ratified globally in 1951.
however,it was mainly used to convict former Nazis. So for the first 40 years the law was dormant until it was revived in the mid-90’s in the wake of the Bosnia genocide and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The 1948 convention that was enacted in 1951 failed to foresee the digital world we live in today where diplomacy is more important than human rights.
The cost of convicting genocidaires is extortionately high, averaging around $10 million to convict a suspect, it is usually a bonanza for lawyers seeking international fame and fortune.
We need a new convention on human rights and crimes against humanity because the current convention does not prevent or punish crimes of genocide.
Why does it require 1.2 million documents to convict Karadzic? Why aren’t simple witness statements enough? Why is the burden of proof so high?
We need a simpler system, right now the onus is on the prosecution to magnify the crimes of the suspect, Genocide – is to kill in part or whole an ethnic or religious group, therefore even one count is enough.
We need to take it to a symbolic level; let suspects be prosecuted for a single count, and let that person represent all the thousands killed.
This way human beings can personalise genocide and identify with the victims and not the numbers. Let Karadzic be prosecuted for a count of genocide for a single victim of Srebrenica, let that victim have justice for all.
The same should apply to Rwanda; we do not need the farce and expense of genocide trials that take years without conclusion.
The author is a social commentator based in Kigali