With the seismic shift underway in the Middle East bringing about the collapse of some dictatorial regimes, “Trying the Tyrants: The Trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein,” a panel discussion co-sponsored by the Institute for International Law and Justice, offered some timely critiques about past efforts to bring to justice two leaders whose own word used to be law.

Judge Patricia WaldOn the panel were Judith Armatta, author of Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic; Jennifer Trahan, assistant clinical professor at the NYU School for Continuing and Professional Studies; and Patricia Wald, a former judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The discussion was moderated by Lisa DiCaprio, clinical associate professor of social sciences at NYU-SCPS.

The two trials had polar opposite structures, and commensurate results.

While Milosevic was tried by an international tribunal on a series of counts spanning the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, Saddam Hussein was tried by an Iraqi court on a very narrow indictment related to a single incident—his 1982 crackdown on the city of Dujail.

The results? A speedy conviction for Saddam, in a case that was undermined by what Trahan described as “patently defective” charges and a deeply flawed tribunal. For Milosevic, there was no verdict. He died of a heart attack in 2006, four years into the proceedings. Despite the tribunal’s strengths, the sweeping nature of the indictment allowed Milosevic to engage in delaying tactics and ultimately thwart justice.

Reviews of trials like these will undoubtedly inform such trials in the world’s future. “We forget—these tribunal courts are new,” said Wald. “They’ve only been around at the most for 17 years. The law is embryonic. It’s been amazing the amount of law that has been fleshed out in these trials, but it’s still embryonic.”

Posted on February 25, 2011