Right to Resistance / War crimes

Right to Resistance / War crimes

The right of resistance is not often thought of as a classical human right, but in asymmetrical conflicts – where one side has overwhelming military superiority – it is an all-important one. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the Naser Oric case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in which members of Doughty Street Chambers represented Naser Oric in his trial for war crimes. Oric was a Bosnian Muslim fighter in Srebrenica who helped to lead an entirely makeshift band of fighters to defend their families and homes against the genocidal campaign of Serbian forces. It emerged during the course of the trial at the ICTY that all of the ‘crimes’ for which Oric was on trial had in fact been committed by desperate civilians who had been ethnically cleansed from their homes, and were on the brink of starvation as a result of the Serbs’ siege.

In the end, the ICTY acquitted Naser Oric of all charges brought against him. The trial and appeal judgments do not, obviously, address whether or not there is a ‘right of resistance’, and whether Oric could avail himself of any defence based on this right. However the historical significance of the judgment, certainly to the people of Srebrenica, is broader than the acquittal of a single resistance fighter. It may be of relevance to current situations, such as where the Palestinian right of resistance against a commanding occupying power collides with the security policies of Israel, who label the actions of the Palestinians ‘acts of terrorism’.

Throughout Doughty Street’s 25 year history, we have been involved in many other groundbreaking cases at international criminal courts involving allegations of war crimes. Members of Doughty Street have secured historic acquittals at the ICTY for Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, who had been sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Others have successfully defended a former Kenyan Minister who faced charges at the International Criminal Court. Doughty Street members have also been appointed in numerous UN-sponsored investigations and advisory teams, including as advisors for Kofi Annan in his capacity as UN peace envoy for Syria.

For more information about Doughty Street’s work in this area please see our international criminal law team page.