Why Defending Bad Guys in Court is a Good Thing


Kevin Jon Heller of Opinio Juris outs himself as a legal adviser to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

There is a lot of mutual admiration between the writers of UN Dispatch and Opinio Juris, a blog about international law written by scholars/practitioners. Kevin Jon Heller is the anchor of Opinio Juris and over the years, Kevin has provided the invaluable service of translating complicated issues of international law into digestible blog posts for laymen like myself.

So, with all that in mind, let me say that I unequivocally support Kevin’s decision to defend Karadzic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Every person, no matter how odious (and Karadzic is as bad as they get) deserves the best available legal representation. This is a fundamental human right. Period.

Personally, I am glad that someone as sharp as Kevin is defending Karadzic. In 2003, I was an intern for the team of prosecutors prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic for his alleged war crimes in Bosnia. I saw, first hand, how Milosevic’s lack of a coherent defense undermined the whole process of his trial.

Karadzic, who is accused of genocide, is apparently accepting legal representation. This is a good thing.

We want the case decided on the facts. I think the facts will show that Karadzic bears responsibility for war crimes in Bosnia, and that these crimes amounted to genocide. With someone like Kevin Jon Heller on his side, we can be assured that Karadzic mounted a serious defense. In the end this helps uphold the legitimacy of the tribunal, and in so doing serves the cause of international justice.

I don’t want to wish Kevin good luck, but I am glad that he has taken the case.

UPDATE:Kevin responds in the comment section. “I deeply appreciate Mark’s thoughts. I just want to clarify that Dr. Karadzic is representing himself, as is his right — for now — under the rules of the tribunal. My colleague Peter Robinson is his formally-designated legal associate, and I am serving as his legal adviser.”