Supporting armed groups and the contentious issue of specific direction

Just under a year ago, Momčilo Perišić, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army until 1998, walked out of a Hague-based court a free man. Judging from a separate ruling in another case, which was delivered today, that decision may have been wrong.

Lawyers for Perišić argued before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that he shouldn’t be held accountable for alleged atrocities, since the aid that Perišić gave to the Bosnian Serbs was not specifically directed towards commission of war crimes. In other words, although these crimes were committed, and Perišić did provide support for the Bosnian Serbs, it could not be proved that this aid was specifically targeted towards the perpetrated crimes. ICTY judges agreed – and Perišić won his freedom.

Some months later, lawyers for Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, used the same argument in his appeal hearing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Here, though, judges rejected the argument, insisting that ICTY judges erred in the Perišić ruling. Taylor’s 50-year conviction stood. It would have been astonishing, given the intractable politics surrounding the Taylor case, had Taylor been able to walk away.

And now today. Lawyers for former Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Šainović had been arguing that his conviction should be overturned, on the grounds that specific direction could not be proven in the aid he had provided the Serbs. Judges rejected this argument, asserting quite strongly that the Perišić ruling was invalid.

So, greater clarity, perhaps, on this highly-contentious element of international law: the link between aiding an armed struggle and that aid being directly targeted towards criminal activities does not have to be firmly established.

Warlords, take note.


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