Thursday, May 10, 2012

Karremans & Srebrenica

While the purpetrators of the 1947 war crimes in Rawagadeh are still not going to be prosecuted, the commander of the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica may not be so lucky. The public prosecutor's office announced yesterday that its "reflection chamber", which apparently exists to give advice about politically and morally tricky cases, had recommended that col. (ret) Thom Karremans should be prosecuted for his role in the genocide.

The reason why this is interesting is exactly the opposite of the reason why we care about the civil litigation about Srebrenica. (See most recently my posts Srebrenica v. UN part 1, part 2 and part 3, and last year Mustafic part 1 and part 2.) Those civil cases are trivially easy once you get past the legal technicalities: Assuming a Dutch court has jurisdiction over the case and over the defendant, and assuming the acts in question can be attributed to the defendant, the rest is easy-peasy. In tort law, the threshold for guilt is much lower, and there is little question that the UN and the Dutch government fell short in Srebrenica. (If evidence is what it takes, I think the Dutch government has a report or two lying around somewhere.)

The criminal case, on the other hand, is trivially easy when it comes to legal technicalities. Of course the Dutch prosecutor can prosecute Dutch military officers if he considers it opportune to do so. The fact that the officer in question was serving as part of a UN peacekeeping mission is irrelevant. The problem is, however, what to charge him with. The complaint, in 2010, referred to the charges of genocide and war crimes, but, come on, please... Mens rea, anyone? It is patently absurd to say that Karremans and the other officers had the necessary intent to conspire - or to aid and abet - in the commission of genocide or war crimes. In the civil case, the defendants are charged with various versions of negligently causing death. However, as noted, that is one heck of an easier sell than the criminal offence of negligent homicide. I am not familiar with the details of the evidence, but it is my distinct recollection that Karremans personally was not blamed to any great extent for the outcome in Srebrenica. It is certainly not his fault that he was asked to stop the entire Bosnian-Serb army with two guys and six bullets.

So let's be generous, find him guilty of negligent homicide (maximum sentence: 2 years), and send him home with 6 months suspended. Personally, I don't think it is very classy to kick a guy when he's down, but as I am wont to say: lex dura, sed lex.

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