LOS ANGELES (August 4, 2004) — On July 29, 2004, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague reversed the conviction of General Tihomir Blaskic, a former Colonel in the Bosnian Croat Army, on 16 of 19 counts, reducing his original 45-year sentence to just nine years. McDermott Will & Emery lawyer, Russell Hayman of the Firm's Los Angeles office, represented General Blaskic at trial and before the Appeals Chamber. The landmark 289-page ruling was a result of the ICTY’s most complex and longest-running proceedings, encompassing a high-profile, two-year trial, and a more than four-year appeal.
The Tribunal's lengthy decision endorses a new standard for command responsibility for wartime commanders which requires that commanders' acts and omissions be judged based on the information actually available to them at the time, and not based on a negligence or strict liability standard. This standard, now the governing command responsibility standard in international law, was advanced by Mr. Hayman as a key part of General Blaskic's defense. The Appeals Chamber's adoption of this standard has precedential effect, and will likely affect similar cases under appeal. In addition, the Appeals Chamber adopted for the first time a standard for review of new evidence on appeal which ensures that, based on both the trial and new evidence, the Appeals Chamber is itself convinced of the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In its decision the five-member appeals panel said that the Trial Chamber misinterpreted the law, made factual errors, obtained insufficient evidence and meted out unfair punishment. Following the decision, Mr. Hayman filed a motion for immediate release with the President of the Tribunal, which was granted on the same day. General Blaskic returned to Croatia on Monday, August 2, 2004, after more than eight years in custody.
The ICTY Statute and Rules allow for new evidence on appeal. As a result, Mr. Hayman submitted more than 8,000 pages of new evidence, and called a number of new witnesses, including British military officers, who testified on behalf of General Blaskic. The new evidence included Croatian intelligence service documents that were not available during General Blaskic's original trial and sentencing because Franjo Tudjman, then President of Croatia, had refused to provide them to the Tribunal. In 2000, the documents became available and set in motion the appeal process which would ultimately led to General Blaskic's exoneration. Blaskic had served as a Bosnian Croat Army colonel in Central Bosnia during the Bosnian civil war from 1992 to 1994.