Richard Ashby Wilson, University of Connecticut; IAS/Social Sciences

Proving Legal Causation in International Speech Crimes

Mon, 02/09/2015
301 Marx Hall
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Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Richard Ashby Wilson, the Gladstein Distinguished Chair of Human Rights and Professor of Law and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut School of Law (UConn), and founding director of the Human Rights Institute at UConn.  The commentator is Gideon A. Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy.

Abstract:  "This paper examines the prosecution case against the Serb political leader Vojislav Šešelj at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY).  The Šešelj case is the only clear-cut “propaganda trial” at the Tribunal, and it is often equated with the “Media Trial” (Nahimana) at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  The paper addresses the question, how do international prosecutors demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that there exists a causal connection between a public speech act and a set of subsequent crimes?  Proving that a leader’s public utterances prompted his followers to murder and deport members of other national, religious, ethnic or racial groups is an arduous undertaking for prosecutors, for reasons of both law and logistics. Even though political leaders may exhibit a surfeit of intent when they mobilize their base through public expressions of discriminatory animus, there is often very little in the way of what prosecutors call “linkage evidence” that connects the accused to the actual crimes committed. Political leaders in conflict situations, including the most ostensibly irresponsible of demagogues, generally steer clear of issuing direct orders for material acts of violence.  In the Šešelj case, prosecutors lacked credible insider testimony and so turned to circumstantial and chronological evidence to demonstrate the elements of causation.  The paper concludes with an assessment of the unique challenges of prosecuting speech crimes and a wider discussion of criminal law’s conceptualization of cause and effect."

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Richard Ashby Wilson is the Gladstein Distinguished Chair of Human Rights and Professor of Law and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and founding director of the Human Rights Institute at UConn. In 2014-2015, he is also a Member at the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study. Wilson studies international human rights, particularly post-conflict justice institutions such as truth and reconciliation commissions and international criminal tribunals. His books include The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa and Humanitarianism and Suffering.  His most recent book, Writing History in International Criminal Trials, was selected by Choice in 2012 as an “Outstanding Academic Title” in the law category.  Having received his BSc. and Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Wilson held fulltime faculty positions at the Universities of Essex and Sussex, as well as visiting professorships at the Free University-Amsterdam, University of Oslo, the New School for Social Research, and the University of the Witwatersand.  He presently teaches international criminal law and an interdisciplinary graduate course on the anthropology, history, law and philosophy of human rights. Wilson has consulted for various policy agencies including UNICEF in Sierra Leone, and served as Chair of the Connecticut State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2009-2013.

Gideon Rosen received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1992. He joined the Princeton faculty in 1993, having taught previously at the University of Michigan. His areas of research include metaphysics, epistemology and moral philosophy. He is the author (with John Burgess) of A Subject With No Object (Oxford, 1997). In 2002, he was the recipient of a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, which gave him the opportunity to spend the 2003-2004 academic year at the New York University Law School taking the first-year law school curriculum and serving as a Hauser Fellow in Global Law.