Monday, 23 August 2010

Prisoner Krstic in British Courts: The Banality of Evil

Radislav Krstic is one of the more celebrated defendants before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Convicted of genocide by a Trial Chamber in 2001, he was somewhat successful on appeal and had the conviction replaced with one of aiding and abetting genocide. Krstic has been serving his sentence in the United Kingdom.
After experiencing what was described as a 'life threatening attack' in prison, Krstic applied to have his prisoner status reclassified so that he could benefit from more favourable conditions of detention in a more relaxed carceral environment. The decision was denied at the administrative level on the grounds that the crimes he had committed made him inherently dangerous. But on judicial review, in a ruling issued ten days ago, the decision was quashed and prison authorities ordered to consider whether he constitutes a risk to the public at the present time.
I've referred to Hannah Arendt's famous phrase, 'the banality of evil', used to describe Eichmann. As the English judge pointed out, some crimes, like sexual abuse, connote an inherent dangerousness. But if you take Krstic out of Bosnia in the midst of ethnic conflict, he becomes quite harmless. He is only 'evil' in a certain context. That is not to say that he should not be punished severely for his crimes. But it is hard to justify imposing a harsh prison regime based on the presumption that his participation in genocide in Bosnia in 1995 makes him a dangerous man in England in 2010.
Thanks to Michael Bohlander.

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