Antonio Cassese 1937 – 2011: Obituary

Anna Marie Brennan

Antonio Cassese, a prominent lawyer and academic, who has often been described as the “father of international criminal justice” passed away on Saturday at his home in Florence, Italy after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Judge Cassese developed a branch of public international law that had remained quiescent in the aftermath of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. He established the Journal of International Criminal Justice and the European Journal of International Law and also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Companion to International Criminal Justice. He was Professor of International Law at the University of Florence from 1975 until 2008 and was also Professor of Law at the European University Institute in Italy from 1987 until 1993.

Until just a couple of weeks ago, Antonio Cassese had been the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and had previously been the first ever President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which was established in the aftermath of atrocities in the Balkans in the early 1990s. He has been succeeded at the STL by David Baragwanath who has stated that “the tragedy of Nino’s (Cassese) departure is beyond words” and that Cassese’s “towering ability as a jurist and a statesman was equalled by the immense personal warmth and humanity which made him our dear friend.”

Cassese became President of the ICTY in 1993 and led the way in developing rules that would guide the tribunal which have since served as a model for the foundation of other international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In particular, the Appeals Chamber over which he presided delivered a pivotal decision in the Tadic Jurisdictional Decision in 1995 which completely changed the basic principles of international criminal law by providing that war crimes could be punished where committed during a non-international armed conflict. The judgment also provided that crimes against humanity could be perpetrated during peacetime. Despite being contentious at the time, both principles were later accepted when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted in 1998.

Cassese also led the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Darfur which eventually led to the UN Security Council requesting the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into alleged atrocities committed in the area. This investigation ultimately led the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for several government officials in Sudan most notably the president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. He also served as an independent expert to review judicial efficacy at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The current Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, released a press statement at the weekend describing Cassese as a “giant of international law” as well as “an exceptionally charming and warm human being who courageously stood up for justice, for human rights and for humanity.”

Antonio Cassese is survived by his wife Sylvia, their son and daughter and two grandchildren.

May he rest in peace.