For the second time in two weeks, the Bih War Crimes Chamber is facing the resignation of an international judge, and a top court official said Bosnians must start sharing authority with foreign officials in selecting the eight special judges.
Former Rwandan judge Gerald Gahima, appointed to the court in March, but currently under investigation by The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the United States Institute of Peace. According to the organization, set up by the U.S. Congress to promote the prevention and resolution of international conflicts, he will arrive in Washington D.C. in October to do a 9-month-long project examining prosecution of war crimes cases in the 1994 genocide in his East African nation that left up to a million people dead.
Gahima, away from Sarajevo on vacation but reached by phone, refused all comment for this story. But Elizabeth Drakulich, a spokeswoman for the fellowship program, said Gahima had confirmed that he would arrive in October.
Branko Peric, president of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council which oversees the Disciplinary Counsel, said that Gahima has not yet submitted a resignation letter, but that Michael Johnson, the temporary international registrar of the State Court had informed him that Gahima had a new offer and was contemplating resignation.
If Gahima leaves Bosnia, Peric said, “there is no point in continuing the inquiry and it would be cancelled.” Gahima called for the investigation in July after the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIN) in Sarajevo published a report looking into allegations about Gahima’s personal finances and misuse of office while in Africa. He maintained that he was innocent of any wrong-doing and would cooperate with the investigation. Depending on the results, Gahima could face termination by the High Representative (HR).
Earlier this month British judge Paul Garlick resigned from the court, just five months into his two-year appointment, upset that he had been assigned to preside over organized crime cases as well as war crimes cases. Peric said losing two judges in so short a period and so early in their tenure was “not good for the Court and the BiH Prosecutor’s Office.’
He said the public’s faith in the ability of the new court to deal with serious wrong-doing during the 1992-95 war and to help the nation’s ethnic communities live together in peace could be hurt by the departures, depending on how the media wrote about them.
The cases of Gahima and Garlick, however, have given weight to Perić’s efforts to change how the international judges are appointed. Currently, his organization plays no role in those selections and he has complained that the international judges appointed by the High Representative have not even been interviewed or examined by Bosnian court officials.
‘We will call on the High Representative to make this process more transparent’ Peric said. The background of judges must be thoroughly investigated and the criteria for selection to the court must be clarified, he said.
‘We would like to talk to OHR, to enable us to interview each candidate before they are proposed to HR’ Perić said. ‘So far this hasn’t been the case.’
Peric earlier told CIN that his agency had had no involvment in the selection of Gahima and had not even seen his resume. Johnson nominated Gahima to the HR, according to former deputy HR, Bill Potter, but no background information except for his resume was provided.
Gahima resigned one month after he’d been appointed to the Supreme Court in Rwanda and then left the country amidst allegations against him. Gahima said he left because of personal reasons that he will not discuss with the media.
HJPC is in negotiations with the OHR, Peric said, centered on becoming participants in the interviews for international candidates before names of candidates are forwarded to the HR, who makes the formal choice. Perić also said that two years is too short a tenure for international judges, particularly because complicated war crimes trials can go on for months or years. He wants that changed.
Court officials, outside of Peric, refused to provide information to the public about the situation with international judges. They have refused to disclose the contents of Garlick’s resignation letter and no one would discuss Gahima this week.
Court president Meddžida Kreso, on vacation and unavailable by phone, verbally ordered all employees not to talk to the media, according to the deputy president of the court Davorin Jukić.
Johnson is also on vacation. Edita Pejović, spokesperson for the BiH Office of Registry, said CIN questions about Gahima would “be answered within the legal period.’ She did not explain what that meant. David Upcher, the American heading the investigating into Gahima could not be reached for comment.
Gahima is one of 18 “Senior Fellows” the U.S. Institute of Peace has listed on its web site as the newest winners in its Jennings Randolph Program. For nearly 20 years, the institute has given fellowships, which include a stipend, an office and assistant in Washington and other benefits, to top policy makers, journalists, scholars and foreign affairs professionals who want to work at the institute and aid its research and educational programs.
The winning candidates had to submit applications, including in-depth project proposals, by the middle of last September and then go through an extensive review process. Gahima was working as legal counsel for Dane Associates, a European energy conglomerate, last fall and the announcement of his selection still lists that as his occupation. Drakulich said this information would be updated in October.
Gahima, a former attorney general for Rwanda , has worked on Peace Institute programs before and has a supporter in at least one of the senior Insitute officials who make final decisions about fellows.
Neil Kritz, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law department, also supported Gahima’s appointment in Bosnia, calling him ‘a capable man, qualified and experienced.’ He told CIN in May that he didn’t buy into the accusations against Gahima. ‘You should understand the political situation in Rwanda first’ he cautioned.
The absence of Gahima and Garlick may not have a big practical impact on the War Crimes Chamber. Garlick had been assigned to preside over the upcoming corruption and abuse of office case against Dragan Čović, member of the BiH Presidency, and will be replaced. Perić said that while his office was not fully informed about the work of the international judges, he was unaware of any specific case Gahima had been assigned to.
Mostly, Peric said, Gahima’s mark in Bosnia has been as the focus of publicity over his appointment.