Former International War Crimes Chief Prosecutor Teaches Course at UVA Law

Richard Goldstone

Richard Goldstone, a former judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court and the first chief prosecutor of the U.N. war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, gave a talk at a recent faculty workshop at UVA Law.

February 5, 2013

Richard Goldstone has led U.N. war crimes tribunals and investigations into violations of international law around the world, and has served on South Africa's highest court — not to mention his latest venture, examining the possible murder of a U.N. secretary general. A pioneer in his field, Goldstone will be passing on his knowledge and experiences to a group of University of Virginia law students taking his course on international criminal law this spring.

Goldstone is a former member of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and the first chief prosecutor of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

His course — International Criminal Justice: Its Successes, Failures and Future Prospects — provides an insider's look at the establishment of war crimes tribunals and explores the laws of international crime, the procedures of international courts and the politics involved in international justice. The course, which began in January, meets through Feb. 15 and March 4-April 26.

"The main purpose of the course is really to put the students in a position to follow intelligently and be able to appreciate the problems, the successes and the failures of international criminal courts — particularly the ICC, the permanent International Criminal Court," Goldstone said.

The course also delves into the role of the United States. "I stress the important role played by the United States. Without the U.S., there wouldn't be these courts. Of that, I have no doubt."

At the same time, he added, the U.S. has shown ambivalence to international justice.

"In President George W. Bush's first term, his administration tried to kill the International Criminal Court," he said. "In his second term, it was assisting. And that has continued, of course, in the Obama administration."

Goldstone was one of the first 11 judges appointed to South Africa's Constitutional Court, the nation's highest court, which was established in 1994 by South Africa's first democratic constitution.

But shortly after being named to serve on the court, South Africa's then-President Nelson Mandela nominated him to serve as the first chief prosecutor of the newly established war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

"When President Mandela asked me to do it, I asked, 'Well what about the constitutional court?' I had already been approached to serve on that court. He said, 'Don't worry about that. The cabinet met this morning and we're going to amend the constitution to make it possible to have acting justices and that will free you to go to The Hague,'" Goldstone said.

Goldstone attributed his rapid ascension in the field to some amount of chance, as the Security Council was unable to agree on a candidate for the job of chief prosecutor for seven months.

"They agreed on me only because of Nelson Mandela," he said. "In 1994, Mandela had just been elected the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Anybody he supported, nobody on the Security Council would have dreamt of exercising a veto."

As chief prosecutor, Goldstone faced a number of challenges as he worked to get the tribunals staffed, established and ready to negotiate with the relevant governments in Europe for the Yugoslavia tribunal and in Africa for the Rwanda tribunal.

"It was a new field," he said. "I suppose whoever went there would have been doing something new. But in my case, I had no experience prosecuting, I knew very little about the former Yugoslavia and I knew very little, if at all, about humanitarian law. It was a very steep learning curve for me. But as it turned out, a lot of the initial work was more diplomatic than legal."

The media, he recalled, had essentially written off the tribunals. On his first day in office, he said, Mike Wallace from "60 Minutes" interviewed him for a segment on the Yugoslavia tribunal titled "An Act of Hypocrisy."

"The hypocrisy was that the Western powers had set up the tribunal as what was referred to as a fig leaf to hide the shame of the West not protecting civilians in Bosnia and that it was designed not to work," he said. "That was the atmosphere in which I found myself. One of the important things I had to do was build credibility, without which we wouldn't have gotten funding from the U.N. The U.N. was seriously cash-short in 1994. The United States was withholding its dues, which it does every now and then."

When Goldstone's tenure wrapped up in October 1996 after 30 months, he left with a certain amount of pride that the tribunals were up and running and that the first trials were underway.

"I issued indictments against [Radovan] Karadic and [Ratko] Mladic — they are standing trial now because they were in hiding for over a decade," he said.

He had difficulty setting up the Rwanda tribunal, he recalled, because the Rwandan government was resistant.

"There were difficult meetings in Kigali," he said. "Eventually the Rwandan government did in fact cooperate, to its great credit, having opposed setting it up. They actually requested it and then voted against [it] because they didn't like the way it was being set up."

Following his term at the U.N. tribunals, Goldstone returned to South Africa and took his seat on the country's Constitutional Court, where he served for nine years.

"It was a wonderful experience, being on that court," he said. "Obviously [it was] the first time South Africa had a constitutional [court]. The first time South Africa had a bill of rights. And all 11 [judges] had in common a human rights background. It was really an exceptional experience to be on that court."

Goldstone has also served on a number of high-profile commissions and investigations related to international law.

He was a member of a commission, led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, that was appointed by the U.N. secretary general to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse related to the Oil for Food Program in Iraq.

Goldstone chaired an independent international commission investigating NATO's bombing in 1999 of Kosovo to halt Serbian attacks on Muslims. NATO's bombing was conducted without the consent of the U.N. Security Council, prompting questions of whether it was legal under international law.

"Our key finding was that the intervention was illegal, but legitimate," he said. "Illegal because there was no Security Council authorization and there was no question of self-defense. But legitimate from a moral point of view because of the humanitarian reason for the intervention."

In 2009, Goldstone led the U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which investigated potential violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by Israelis and Palestinians during the winter of 2008-09. The mission concluded that both sides had committed war crimes and urged the international community to put an end to such violations.

Goldstone is currently involved in a new investigation into the plane crash that killed U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961. The inquiry was prompted after a 2011 book, "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?" by University of London professor Susan Williams, presented evidence about the crash that suggests Hammarskjöld was intentionally killed.

"In 1962, the United Nations had its own inquiry into the plane crash," Goldstone said. "It brought out an open verdict. It said it couldn't decide whether it was pilot error or whether it was an explosion or whatever the case might be. But the General Assembly instructed the secretary general then that if ever there was new evidence to justify reopening the investigation, he was to bring it to the General Assembly. So our mandate is simply to give an opinion on whether there is new evidence to justify reopening the investigation."

Along with Goldstone, the new panel investigating Hammarskjöld's death includes Stephen Sedley, a retired British appeals court judge, Ambassador Hans Corell of Sweden, a former legal counsel to the United Nations and Wilhelmina Thomason, a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.


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