News reports today confirm that Antonio Cassese passed away yesterday. He had been ill with leukemia for some time, although he continued working at his most recent position, as judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, until very recently. He stepped down as its president two weeks ago.
The world has lost one of its greatest international criminal lawyers. Professor Cassese was already a very distinguished academic in the field of international law, specialized in the area of human rights, when he was elected as one of the first group of judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in late 1993. With hindsight, we know that this was the revival of a body of law that had lain largely dormant since the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo in the late 1940s. But at the time there were many skeptics, and it was not then in the least bit obvious that something great was beginning. Nino was one of those who understood the importance of what was going on then. At the first plenary of judges of the International Criminal Tribunal he was elected the institution's first president, and it was from that influential position that he steered the fledgling court.
He did more than that, of course, because he set the tone for the entire discipline. Rather boldly, in 1995 the Appeals Chamber over which he presided issued a seminal decision that represented a sea change in our understanding of the law. The Tadic Jurisdictional Decision declared that war crimes could be punished even when committed in internal armed conflict, and established the existence of crimes against humanity in peacetime. Seemingly controversial at the time, both principles were soon widely accepted and confirmed when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted in October 1998.
Professor Cassese continue to exercise a profound influence on the development of international criminal law, serving as a judge on the Appeals Chamber and later on trial chambers until 2001. In 2004-5, he chaired an important United Nations inquiry into atrocities in Darfur. Later, he took up the presidency of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. His final contribution early this year was a massive judgment on the international criminality of terrorism.
Much longer obituaries will be written about this great jurist. This brief note summarizes some of his massive accomplishments. He was a warm individual, dignified and courteous. Like all great professors, he was deeply devoted to his many students and proteges. My sympathy goes out to his wife and family who, in their bereavement, can be immensely proud of his enormous contribution to the cause of peace and justice.
He was the Michael Jordan of International Criminal Law
He was a brave man.
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