William and Mary Law School

International Criminal Law Expert Available for Comment on Trial in the Hague

  • Nancy Combs
    Nancy Combs
    Professor Combs is a renowned expert in international criminal law and war crime tribunals.

"When prosecuting an accused as notorious as Radovan Karadzic, the Tribunal needs not only to conduct a fair trial but  to be seen to conduct a fair trial and the spectacle that is currently unfolding threatens to undercut that goal," says Professor Nancy Combs, an expert in war crimes tribunals, and the author of Factfinding Without Facts: The Uncertain Evidentiary Foundations of International Criminal Convictions (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2010).

Haunted by the ghost of Milosevic and his impossibly long trial, Combs continues, the ICTY understandably sought to keep Karadzic on a short leash and to minimize the delay caused by Karadzic's decision to represent himself.  Viewed from that perspective, the Tribunal's decision to commence trial on October 26th was a predictable  one. However, Karadzic claims that he needs more time to prepare for trial, and in fact he might.  Until recently, Karadzic has focused his time and efforts on litigating his immunity claim, and doing so may well have left him unprepared for trial.  The problem for the Tribunal is in where to go from here given Karadzic's current refusal to attend his trial.  The Tribunal has intimated that it will impose counsel on Karadzic if he continues to boycott his trial, yet doing so will cause considerable delay -- which is just what the Tribunal was seeking to avoid -- because any counsel that the Tribunal imposes will necessarily require time to get up to speed on the case.  It is likely, moreover, that Karadzic will refuse to cooperate with appointed counsel, so even when counsel is up to speed -- several months from now -- they may not be able to provide adequate representation.  This is a problem for Karadzic, of course, but it is likewise a problem for the ICTY.

Prior to joining the faculty at William & Mary, Combs served as legal advisor at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands. Since joining the faculty, she has written extensively on topics in international law and international criminal justice. In addition to her most recent book, she authored Guilty Pleas in International Criminal Law: Constructing a Restorative Justice Approach (Stanford University Press 2007) and numerous articles and essays appearing in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Vanderbilt Law Review, the Harvard International Law Journal, and the Chicago Journal of International Law, among others. Combs currently serves as a member of the International Expert Framework, an international working group that is developing general rules and principles of international criminal procedure.

Read a Q&A with Professor Nancy Combs on her forthcoming book, Factfinding Without Facts.