Peter Robinson is a defence counsel, currently acting as the legal advisor for Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He’s been an international criminal law defense counsel since 2001 and is the author of the book The Tribunal.
“I guess what motivates me as a defence laywer now is that I feel like I’m the champion of my client. I enjoy fighting for an individual against a large government or the international community. I feel like it’s a David against Goliath battle, and I enjoy being on the side of David.
“I also tend to have a good rapport with my clients. I really enjoy that relationship and the fact of helping a particular individual who has the whole weight of the international community coming down against him.
“The first case I ever got involved in with these tribunals was when I was assisting the defence team of General Krstić on their closing brief. He was charged with the events in Srebrenica. And working on that case I was thinking, Karadžić has a pretty good defence to these events. He was not anywhere near the crimes. It doesn’t seem like anyone was informing him of these executions.
“So I just had a feeling that he had a good defence for the events in Srebrenica, and I wanted to be part of something like that.
“It was actually amazing in October when I gave part of the closing argument about his knowledge of Srebrenica, which kind of brought full circle to when I was sitting in the Peace Palace library in the year 2001, reading about Srebernica and thinking that I’d like to participate in this guy’s defence.
“There’s a big variety of ways that a defence lawyer can get cases. It can range from a person arriving at the detention unit and having fellow detainee lawyers recommend who they think are good to contacts between embassies and diplomatic personnel asking who would be a good lawyer for a particular member of that country. Even academics can be involved in recommending lawyers who did a good job on cases that they followed.
“I decline cases and I declined several because I had this idea for a long time that I would like to represent Karadžić. So there were two people who asked me to represent them before he was arrested, but I turned them down because I didn’t want to have a conflict of interest if Karadžić were ever arrested.
“That was kind of an irrational way to decide things, but I just had this feeling that I wanted to do that.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie amongst defence lawyers. We are the underdogs. We are always trying to work together to bounce off ideas, to help each other with information that someone doesn’t have. It’s like a rag-tag group of people trying to accomplish some very big things.
“On the other hand, there’s also a lot of competition amongst defence lawyers because there aren’t that many cases to be had in the international world. So sometimes there are very sharp elbows being thrown about in order to get cases, and that takes a little bit away from the camaraderie.
“I think people tend to associate the defence lawyer with the client, and therefore that reputation is immediately transferred to the lawyer when it sometimes shouldn’t be. But in other cases, I think the lawyers deserve the bad reputations that they have because they act in ways which are not professional.
“Some lawyers are involved in international criminal justice for political reasons. They want to foster or promote the political agendas of some countries, ethnic groups or individual clients. And I think that takes away from the integrity of the lawyer when they do that.
“Other lawyers are simply willing to misstate things or lie to help their cause or their client’s cause. I think the lawyer’s main asset is his or her credibility. So whenever you do something like lie or misstate something, even though it may have an immediate benefit to you or the client, it definitely is a detriment to the client in the long run and a detriment to you as a counsel.
“I think the ICC and the tribunals are really necessary. I don’t think that they would have been able to prosecute the people in the Balkans or in Rwanda at the time of the ICTY and ICTR’s inception. I also think that there are many situations – current and future – where there will not be the possibility to prosecute both sides of a conflict without the ICC.
“Even though all of those courts have had their flaws and ups-and-downs, I think they’re really necessary in order to fully hold accountable those people who are committing crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.”
(Photo: Niklas Jakobsson/Justice Hub)