Peter Robinson

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THE TRIBUNAL first chapter

By Peter B. Robinson

P r e l u d e

“All rise! Veuillez vous lever!” the black-robed usher bellowed in English and French, the two official languages of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Trial lawyer Kevin Anderson leapt to his feet. The adrenaline from the impending verdict flowed hard and fast inside his well-conditioned body. He had tried more than two hundred cases and lost only a handful. Waiting for a verdict was always a heart thumper. With what he had at stake here, this one was a heart stopper.

The three judges filed solemnly into the courtroom. They wore black robes with bright red satin covering the chest and shoulders and striping the cuffs.  Crusty old William Davidson of Great Britain led the procession, carrying an old leather book in which he had made notes during the trial.  Kevin studied Judge Davidson’s face for some indication of the decision, but the judge’s eyes were impassive behind his thick glasses, his mouth fixed in its usual scowl.

Next came the President of the Trial Chamber, Juana Orozco of Chile, with jet-black hair pulled tight behind her head. She looked down; the normally pleasant smile absent from her face. Finally, Francisco Linares of the Philippines marched in, wearing the same blank expression that he had maintained throughout the month-long trial.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” Judge Orozco began when everyone had been seated. She looked out at the visitors’ gallery, separated from the courtroom by a wall of bulletproof glass. Normally empty, the gallery was standing room only.   

Journalists and court watchers had flocked to The Hague to see the result of the War Crimes Tribunal’s most notorious case yet; the prosecution of the infamous Serbian warlord known as “Draga”, leader of the Black Dragons. Draga was accused of leading his paramilitary group on genocidal attacks in Bosnia at the behest of Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.

“Will the accused please rise?” Judge Orozco ordered.

A tall, clean-shaven athletic-looking man wearing a dark blue double-breasted suit rose to his feet. In America, he would have been mistaken for one of the lawyers.  However, at the Tribunal here in Holland, all the lawyers wore robes.

Kevin’s gaze met the deep brown eyes of the woman he loved, seated next to him at the counsel table. He took her hand and squeezed. With his other hand, he reached inside the pocket of his robe and rubbed the lucky stone that their eleven-year-old daughter, Ellen, had given him. Ellen had sat in the audience for many of his verdicts, and now, her life depended on this one.

A wave of panic engulfed Kevin. He looked up at the judges. The proceedings were moving in slow motion. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

“The Trial Chamber has reached a verdict in this case,” Judge Orozco intoned. “It is a majority verdict, as required by our rules, but it is not unanimous.  The verdict on all of the counts of the indictment is the same.”

Kevin struggled to process this information. A 2-1 verdict. But for acquittal or conviction?

Judge Orozco continued. “Separate majority and dissenting opinions will be filed in due course. Only the result will be announced this morning.”

Kevin looked around the courtroom, desperate for a clue. If any of the court personnel knew what the outcome was, they didn’t show it. The clerks, guards, and interpreters all had their eyes fixed on Judge Orozco, her black and red robes framed by the sky blue background of the United Nations flag.

Kevin gave up his attempt at cognitive analysis.

Instead, he closed his eyes, rubbed the stone, and prayed.