A few days after the death of Slobodan Milosevic, we discussed the development in my international criminal law class. I asked my students whether it was appropriate, under the circumstances, to express condolances to his family and loved ones, as we do normally in Ireland. The views were rather mixed and we never reached a conclusion.
Today, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued a press release announcing the death of Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who passed away this morning while serving a 32-year sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity. The press release concludes: 'The ICTR and the Benin Government extend their condolences to the family of Jean Bosco Barayagwiza.'
I don't think the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia does anything similar. Indeed, I seem to recall Prosecutor Carla del Ponte making some rather unpleasant comments at the time of the death of Milosevic that seemed contrary to the rule that one should 'never speak ill of the dead'. Recently, Rasim Delic, who is on appeal from a conviction for war crimes and a three-year sentence, passed away, but the Tribunal didn't issue any press release (see the blog item on this by Dov Jacobs).
My inclination with Milosevic was to express sympathy to his family. It is a way of reaffirming out common humanity. We are not judging demons, we are judging other human beings. Moreover, they have families that have not been found guilty and may in fact have had no role whatsoever in the crimes. I don't know anything about Barayagwiza's family, but perhaps he has lovely grandchildren, and they have lost their grandfather, however evil he may have been.
When Hitler committed suicide, in the final days of the war, Ireland's prime minister at the time, Eamon de Valera, went to the German mission in Dublin to sign the book of condolances. It has been a matter of great debate ever since, cited by some as evidence of Nazi leanings and others of uncompromising neutrality. Apparently he did it despite advice from the civil servants in the Department of External Affairs to the contrary.
What do readers of the blog think? Was the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda correct to express its condolances to the Barayagwiza family?