Hague war crimes ruling threatens to undermine future prosecutions

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Crimes of war atrocities, genocide, slaughter of innocent civilians (under the euphemism of ‘collateral damage’).  Undoubtedly barbaric actions that need to be punished.  The irony though is that it’s the ‘victor’ who determines the crime.  Does the unjustifiable killing of hundreds of thousands of civilains in Iraq and Afghanistan not count?

Mens Rea

Two small words in your ear:
Mens Rea.

How do you prove intent?
The chillingly cold intent to kill.
You can show the way,
the how, the when, the where, the who
of those who actually do the act.
But for the puppet-masters shielded in the back,
how do you prove the intent to kill,
the slaughter of innocent civilians at will,
the planned commitment of genocide
when butchering commanders know they can hide
behind two small words:
Mens Rea.

They appear to divide international law
in the calumny of crimes of war.
Now you must be indubitably sure
that you can prove the causal chain
between the fact of the act
and the intent of the butcher’s brain.
Where Bush and Blair once had to beware,
now they don’t care.
Mens Rea.
Strange that it rhymes with urea.


14th August 2013 – headline from the Guardian

Notes:  “Hague war crimes ruling threatens to undermine future prosecutions.”  Generals and politicians could evade responsibility for war crimes in future because of a ruling requiring proof that they “specifically directed” atrocities, say some international lawyers and senior judges.  A series of acquittals by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)have created a novel judicial precedent that human rights groups fear will make it difficult to deliver justice in the wake of massacres.  Three senior Serbian generals or police officers have been cleared of all charges in recent months. The judgments relate to charges of “aiding and abetting” war crimes levelled against those who were not on the ground when civilians were systematically targeted and murdered by paramilitary or specialist forces.  The issue of their complicity revolves around legal interpretations of what constitutes mens rea, or intent, and how far “specific direction” must be proved to find a defendant guilty.  The dispute has touched off a debate within the international law community that has global political implications. Accusations that the US and Israeli governments applied improper pressure on the tribunal to ensure military commanders could never be convicted of war crimes are among allegations in circulation. Other commentators have dismissed such fears as conspiracy-mongering.


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