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An Ex-AUSA in The Hague
Posted By Andrew Ramonas On January 7, 2011 @ 1:58 pm In News | Comments Disabled
Peter Robinson helped send to prison individuals in the northwestern United States looking to establish an ethnically pure territory in the 1980s. Now, he helps defend a man accused of orchestrating genocide in a Balkan republic.
Robinson, a 57-year-old former Assistant U.S. Attorney, was part of the successful prosecutions in the 1980s of more than two dozen members of The Order, a neo-Nazi organization that committed crimes across the western United States. In 2008, the former prosecutor became a legal adviser to former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who faces war crimes charges in The Hague stemming from the Bosnian War in the 1990s.
The journey from a U.S. courtroom to an international tribunal is an unusual trip for an American. Only a small fraction of the roughly 40 lawyers currently in The Hague representing individuals accused of war crimes are from the United States, Robinson told Main Justice in a recent interview.
The defense lawyers in The Hague are the consummate underdogs, fighting courtroom battles at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia  on behalf of their clients who are the accused conspirators in massacres that killed thousands of people.
But to Robinson, Karadzic is just a man who deserves a fair trial.
“One of the things that motivates me is that I really strongly believe in human rights, and I think that if the trials of the tribunals aren’t the product of a fair trial with a vigorous defense, then the whole international criminal justice system doesn’t work,” Robinson said. “It becomes like show trials like Saddam Hussein’s case.”
Robinson cut his teeth on cases after he joined Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1978. His first prosecution as an Assistant U.S. Attorney was a case involving stolen timber from a national forest.
He eventually moved to fraud and public corruption cases as a Justice Department lawyer, taking assignments at the Public Integrity Section and the Northern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office before leaving the DOJ in 1988 to become a defense lawyer in the United States.
But, in 2000, Robinson made another change in his career. He applied to be a defense counsel in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
“My daughter at that time was 11-years-old, and she had lived at the same house her whole life, and she’d gone to the same school all her life, and I wanted her to be a world citizen,” Robinson said. “I looked around for someplace where I could do something related to criminal law for a year while my family lived abroad, and I found out about these war crimes tribunals.”
Robinson first helped represent Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic, who was convicted in 2001 of genocide for the deaths of about 7,500 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1995. He is now serving a 35-year prison sentence.
The lawyer then helped defend Dragoljub Ojdanic, an ex-army general under former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Ojdanic was convicted in 2009 on charges stemming from the deportation of 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in 1999 during the Kosovo War. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Robinson also led the legal team for Joseph Nzirorera, the former president of the Rwandan National Assembly, who faced genocide charges in United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda  for the murders of 800,000 people. Nzirorera died last summer before his trial was finished. He had been on trial for seven years.
The lawyer said he spends long hours working on the cases reviewing voluminous boxes of documents and appearing before the tribunals. But he said his clients are like “very high-quality co-counsel[s].”
“They’re leaders of either the military or civilian part of the government, and they tend to be very, very intelligent, very hard-working, very capable individuals,” Robinson said. “They’re really very easy to work with as clients because they’re sophisticated, and they are able to contribute quite a bit to their own defense in terms of knowledge and being able to communicate the information.”
Robinson said he and Karadzic have a “great relationship.” The former Bosnian Serb president is representing himself in his trial, but Robinson is his legal adviser. Robinson said Karadzic chose him as his legal adviser because the former Bosnian Serb president was a psychiatrist and a writer, not a lawyer.
“He’s a really charismatic, personable guy and very likable,” Robinson said.
Then, there’s “Draga.” He’s a fictional Serbian warlord, who goes on trial for war crimes in a novel by Robinson.
The Tribunal , published in 2004, chronicles the exploits of defense attorney Kevin Anderson, who represents Draga and is in a battle to save his kidnapped daughter.
Robinson said the events in the book are sensationalized, and his life in The Hague is “much more sedate.” An autobiography, he said, “would put everyone asleep.”
The lawyer said The Tribunal is probably his last book.
“It’s much easier to defend a war criminal than to write a novel,” Robinson said.
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