Sunday, 25 April 2010


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?


Zuzeeko Abeng said...

In my opinion, the ICTR was correct to extend condolences to Barayagwiza's family. A condolence message to the family of a deceased criminal does not represent an endorsement of the crimes he committed.

Luís Paulo said...

I think the ICTR was right and I agree with you, professor.
I like what you said about reaffirming our common humanity.
In my opinion, we should strive do differentiate the person's actions from his/her being. It is the essence of human rights that every human being has an inherent value - wether he may become a 'good' or a 'bad' person through his actions. In this sense, even if someone has committed genocide, we should still treat him with dignity. After all, that's why we will not execute him or submit him to torture. If that is so, why shouldn't we then express our condolences to the family of a génocidaire, when he dies? isn`t the punishment supposed to be strictly personal? there`s no reason a criminal`s family should be treated with less respect than other families.
Of course that in extreme cases, like Hitler, it is very hard for us to keep our hatred towards his actions from influencing our actions when it comes to expressing condolences to his family. But that is something we must learn to do, and it is something thats coherent with our `human rights` ethics.
Buddhism (at least as I`ve learned) says we should be good to all beings, wether their actions are good or bad. Christianism would affirm the same, at least in many passages of the Gospel (`love your enemy as you love your friend` and so on...).
In conclusion, I`d like to add that if we refuse to express condolences to a criminal`s family, than we are in someway mixing our feelings towards the criminal and extending them further than we should. We would be assuming that his family is somewhat responsible for the criminal acts. That may be so, but if we admit that, then we would face a very tough question about how far should we extend this culpability...In my opinion it is better and more coherent to draw a clear line and pay our respects to a fellow human being - for the simple fact that he was, in some way, like all of us, human.

Mark said...

Yes, it was correct. Not to do so would make us no better than the deceased mentioned herein.

K said...

Why highlight the expressions of condolences to Barayagwizas family and Milosevics family? without highlighting individual expressions of condolences to each and every family of each and every person whose life they are directly or indirectly resposible for ending? Why the special focus? the special importance? to lose someone you love is a tragedy that deserves compassion and condolences i agree, but i disagree with Luis, i think Buddhist and Christian principles amongst other dominant doctrines and schools of thought are too easily accessed,accepted, and quoted, serving as guidebooks to justice, they have been around for a long time and they havent exactly solved the problems of the world, when perhaps they could be replaced by individuals discovering their own neutral interpretations of justice and legitimacy, the ICTR should announce individual condolences to all families who lost loved ones as a result of Barayagwizas actions. If, like Luis says, buddhists think we should be good to all human beings despite their actions, then we could never lock anyone away for their crimes, and automatically the idea of justice is washed away.

Luís Paulo said...

Thank you for your reply Paul, however I need to clarify that when I mentioned buddhism and christianism I didn`t mean they are guidebooks to justice or even that they should be accepted as such...I just mentioned these traditions because they are well known and widely followed...and they support my point of view.
Furthermore, I`m not sure that the affirmation that we should be good to all human beings despite their actions will automatically lead to the conclusion that we coul never lock anyone away for their crimes. That is completely wrong. Being "good" can be interpreted in a manner consistent with being "just". In this sense, a buddhist monk can perfectly agree that a murderer should go to jail. Nevertheless, I doubt he will agree to torturing him. That`s just an example.
One more point, I agree that world religions in general have not solved the problems of the world. However, as much as they have been used for power, one can say that they have done good in many ways. Personally I don`t believe in any religion, for I think each one has to find his own path (like in Herman Hesse`s Siddharta). Nonetheless, I do think religions have much to contribute to solving world problems - event though they can be used to create more problems.
Religion apart, I think we agree on the main issue here - that the criminals` families deserve our condolences.