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Joint criminal enterprise

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Title: Joint criminal enterprise  
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Subject: International criminal law, War crimes in the Kosovo War, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Mate Boban, List of Bosnian genocide prosecutions
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Joint criminal enterprise

Joint criminal enterprise (JCE) is a legal doctrine used by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to prosecute political and military leaders for mass war crimes, including genocide, committed during the Yugoslav Wars 1991-1999.

This doctrine considers each member of an organized group individually responsible for crimes committed by group within the common plan or purpose.[1] For example, "if three people commit a bank robbery and one fatally shoots a person in the process, the law considers all guilty of murder."[2] The concept of "collective liability" where more than one person can share liability and punishment for the actions of another person is not universally accepted and is considered by some to be a form of human rights abuse, while others believe it is just.


Without a certain degree of cooperation and coordination of actions, it is virtually impossible to perpetrate atrocities such as genocide or crimes against humanity.[3]

The first traces of joint criminal enterprise doctrine are identified in the post-World War II cases in which the doctrine was used under the name common purpose (or joint enterprise) or sometimes even without specific name.[4]

However, the origins of Joint Criminal Enterprise may be influenced by the Common Law of England, which introduced the principle into criminal law in the UK and other commonwealth nations such as Australia. A similar legal principle can also be found in Texas USA, known as the Law of Parties. The notion of collective liability and shared punishment for the actions of others as if all perpetrated the same deed may be much older and was used to justify extermination of religious and cultural groups, such as the Albigensian "Heretics" and those who harboured them. Critics argue that Joint Criminal Enterprise can lead to excessive legal process and punishments, that it lowers the evidential bar in favour of prosecution, and that it runs counter to the spirit of Blackstone's Formulation. Supporters argue that it ensures those contributing to or instigating a criminal act are properly made to account for their involvement.

The first reference to joint criminal enterprise and its constituent elements was provided in Tadic case 1999.[4]

The Appeals Chamber of the ICTY decided on 21 May 2003 on the following definitions:[5]

Writing about this finding in the Journal of International Criminal Justice in 2004 Steven Powles (a barrister who has appeared as a defence council in matters before the ICTY and the Special Court for Sierra Leone) states that the Appeals Chamber was obliged to make this declaration because there was no specific mention of "joint criminal enterprise" in the court's statutes and that "this is not ideal [because] criminal law, especially international criminal law, requires clear and certain definitions of the various bases of liability, so as to enable the parties, both the prosecution and, perhaps more importantly, the defence to prepare for and conduct the trial."[7]

Post World War II trials

In the aftermath of World War II, the courts established by British and United States in Germany applied this doctrine in the trials against Nazis.[4] The Italian Supreme Court applied a similar doctrine in the trials against fascists.[4]

Concentration camp cases

Former guards of Belsen Concentration Camp load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a lorry for burial (April 1945).

Possibly, the most well-known post World War II cases are the Dachau Concentration Camp case, decided by a United States court, and the Belsen case, decided by a British military court, both sitting in Germany.[4] In these cases, the accused held position of authority within the hierarchy of the Nazi concentration camps and based on that were found guilty of the charges that they had acted in pursuance of a common plan to kill or mistreat prisoners.[4]

Essen Lynching case

Essen Lynching case, led before a British military court, demonstrates the closest link to the joint criminal enterprise doctrine.[4] In that case three British airmen prisoners of war had been lynched by a mob of Germans in the Essen on 13 December 1944.

Seven persons were charged with committing a war crime, included a German captain, who had placed prisoners under the escort of a German soldier. While the escort with the prisoners was leaving, the captain had ordered to not interfere if German civilians molest the prisoners. This order had been given in a loud voice so that the gathering crowd could hear. When the prisoners of war were marched through one of the main streets of Essen, the crowd grew bigger, started hitting them and throwing stones. When they reached the bridge, the prisoners were thrown over the parapet of the bridge; one of the airmen was killed by the fall; two others were killed by members of the crowd.[4]

Post Yugoslav War trials

The use of the JCE as an actual criminal investigation and prosecution theory first appeared at the ICTY through a written proposal to Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, which was developed and authored by American prosecutor Dermot Groome, at the time the legal officer for the Bosnia case, and American Investigator John Cencich, head of the Milosevic investigation for crimes alleged to have been committed in Croatia.[8][9] Cencich provides an in-depth look at the actual development of the investigation and prosecution theory of the JCE in his doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame,[10] in the International Criminal Justice Review,[11] and his book, The Devil's Garden: A War Crimes Investigator's Story.[12]

Indictments to Serb leaders

Slobodan Milosevic

The ICTY prosecutor indicted Slobodan Milosevic on three separate indictments which on appeal they successfully pleaded to the ICTY Appeals Chamber should considered as one indictment. As the prosecution had not used the same language in all three indictments it was left to the Court of Appeal to decide if the alleged criminal enterprises in the three indictments were one of the same and what was common between the allegations. The Appeals count decided that:[13]

A joint criminal enterprise to remove forcibly the majority of the non-Serb population from areas which the Serb authorities wished to establish or to maintain as Serbian controlled areas by the commission of the crimes charged remains the same transaction notwithstanding the fact that it is put into effect from time to time and over a long period of time as required. Despite the misleading allegation in the Kosovo indictment, therefore , the Appeals Chamber is satisfied that the events alleged in all three indictments do form part of the same transaction.

Milosevic died during the trial, but he was still found to have been a part of a joint criminal enterprise in the verdicts against Milan Martić[14] and Milan Babić, who publicly admitted his own (and Milosevic's) guilt.[15]

Vojislav Seselj

The ICTY prosecution indicted Šešelj alleging a number of crimes which included being member of a joint criminal enterprise during the Croatian and Bosnian wars. "The purpose of this joint criminal enterprise was the permanent forcible removal, through the commission of crimes in violation of Articles 3 and 5 of the Statute of the Tribunal, of a majority of the Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia ('Croatia'), and large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina" and alleged that the following individuals and groups were involved in a joint criminal enterprise:[16]

Slobodan MILOSEVIC, General Veljko KADIJEVIC, General Blagoje ADZIC, Colonel Ratko MLADIC, Jovica STANISIC, Franko SIMATOVIC also known as "Frenki", Radovan STOJICIC, also known as "Badza", Milan MARTIC, Goran HADZIC, Radovan KARADZIC, Momcilo KRAJISNIK, Biljana PLAVSIC, Zeljko RAZNATOVIC, also known as "Arkan", and other members of the Yugoslav People's Army ("JNA"), later the Yugoslav Army ("VJ"), the newly formed Serb Territorial Defence ("TO") of Croatia and of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the army of the Republika Srpska Krajina ("SVK") and the army of the Republika Srpska ("VRS"), and the TOs of Serbia and of Montenegro, local Serb, Republic of Serbia and Republika Srpska police forces ("MUP forces"), including the State Security/Drzavna bezbednost/("DB") Branch of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia, and Serb special police forces of the SAO Krajina and the RSK commonly referred to as "Martic's Police", Marticevci", "SAO Krajina Police" or "SAO Krajina Milicija" (hereinafter "Martic's Police") and members of Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Croatian Serb paramilitary forces and volunteer units including "Chetniks", or "Seseljevci" (translated into English as "Seselj’s men") (collectively, "Serb forces"), and other political figures from the (S)FRY, the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Montenegro and the Bosnian and Croatian Serb leadership.
— ICTY Prosecutor's Vojislav Seselj indictment.[16]

Currently (as of March 2010) Šešelj is still being tried by the ICTY in the Hague, and his verdict is expected around October 2013.


According to the ICTY prosecutors indictment, Milutinović et al, Nikola Šainović, Nebojša Pavković and Sreten Lukić, along with others, participated in a joint criminal enterprise to modify the ethnic balance in Kosovo in order to ensure continued control by the FRY and Serbian authorities over the province. On 26 February 2009, the court returned a verdicts that:[17][18][19][20]

  • Nikola Šainović, "had substantial de facto powers over both the MUP and the VJ operating in Kosovo, and that he was the political co-ordinator of these forces. It is convinced that he made a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise and that, indeed, he was one of the most crucial members of that common enterprise. He was found guilty "of counts 1 to 5 of the Indictment, by commission as a member of a joint pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Statute".[17]
  • Nebojša Pavković "had substantial de jure and de facto command authority over VJ forces in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, and that he was in a position of influence, including through his participation in the Joint Command. There is no doubt that his contribution to the joint criminal enterprise was significant, as he utilised the VJ forces at his disposal to terrorise and violently expel Kosovo Albanian civilians from their homes." He was found guilty of "counts 1 to 5 of the Indictment, by commission as a member of a joint criminal enterprise pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Statute".[17]
  • Sreten Lukić "had substantial authority over MUP units deployed in Kosovo ... the Chamber finds that Lukić was indeed an important participant in the joint criminal enterprise, and made a significant contribution through his control of the MUP forces involved in its execution." He was found guilty of "counts 1 to 5 of the Indictment, by commission as a member of a joint criminal enterprise pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Statute".[17]

On 27 May 2009, the Prosecution filed its notice of appeal in respect of all of the accused except Milan Milutinovië. On the same day, all Defence teams filed their notices of appeal.[19]

Indictments to Croat leaders

Croatian General Ante Gotovina's amended indictment accuses him of participating in a Joint Criminal Enterprise featuring Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. The indictment stated purpose of the conspiracy to be "the forcible and permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region".[21]

Former Yugoslavia during war.

After the Trial of Gotovina et al, the ICTY acquitted Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač for participating in the JCE, thus also rendering Croatian leadership innocent.

However in May 2013, Jadranko Prlić and others were found guilty as part of the Joint criminal enterprise with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman for crimes committed in Herceg-Bosna against Bosniaks and Serbs.[22]

Rwandan Genocide trials

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is an international court established in November 1994 by the United Nations Security Council in order to judge people responsible for the Rwandan genocide and other serious violations of the international law in Rwanda, or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between 1 January and 31 December 1994.[23]

At the Rwanda trials, the Prosecution originally alleged that the genocidal common plan had been drawn up in 1990 but this theory was dismissed in December 2008 when the defendants in the mammoth "Military I" trial were acquitted of conspiracy to commit genocide.[24]


John Laughland, author of Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice, criticized the Joint Criminal Enterprise doctrine. He stated that successive rulings of the ICTY Appeals Chamber have allowed this doctrine "to get wildly out of hand". The judgement in Kvocka ruled that "JCE responsibility does not require any showing of superior responsibility, nor the proof of a substantial or significant contribution." In Brdjanin, it ruled that "the third category of joint criminal enterprise does not require proof of intent to commit a crime."[24]

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia...has invented a doctrine of criminal liability known as ‘joint criminal enterprise.’ It uses this concept, which is so contentious that it is unconstitutional in many jurisdictions, in order to convict people of crimes when even the Tribunal accepts that they did not, in fact, commit them or that the proof is lacking to show that they did.

He argues thus that "international tribunals have abolished the very thing which criminal trials are supposed to be about. If you can be convicted of a crime as a primary perpetrator for something which you neither committed nor intended to commit, and if mens rea can be ‘established’ by judicial ruling," this is "introducing into the heart of their systems measures which are the very hallmark of dictatorships." The chapter in Laughland's book Travesty on the subject of the Joint Criminal Enterprise doctrine is titled "Just convict everyone."

Laughland is not alone in criticizing the application of this doctrine. Torunn Salomonsen has taken a similar position in her Ph.D. thesis

Joint Criminal Enterprise is found in some nations and states and may have its roots in the Common Law of England, where its application has prompted the formation in 2011 of a campaign group JENGbA - JENGbA seeks to curtail the use of Joint Enterprise and claims its misuse constitutes a human rights abuse. Joint Criminal Enterprise as a legal concept has been used at the ICTY and - to a lesser extent - at the ICTR, as well as in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. But it has been rejected by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and it is not part of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Rome Statute. The ICC instead uses the notion of co-perpetratorship, which a number of ICTY judges had tried to introduce at the ICTY instead of JCE.[25]

See also


  1. ^ John Ciorciari, Joint Criminal Enterprise and the Khmer Rouge Prosecutions
  2. ^ Atrocities in Yugoslavia unraveled much later
  3. ^ Gunel Guliyeva, The Concept of Joint Criminal Enterprise and ICC Jurisdiction (retrieved 29.12.2009.)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Jasmina Pjanic (OKO lawyer), Joint Criminal Enterprise New form of individual criminal responsibility. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
  5. ^ a b ICTY Appeals Chamber "Decision on Dragoljub Ojdanic's Motion Challenging Jurisdiction - Joint Criminal Enterprise", The Prosecutor v. Milutinovic et al. - Case No. IT-99-37-AR72, 21 May 2003
  6. ^ ICTY Statute article 7(1) "A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute, shall be individually responsible for the crime."
  7. ^ Steven Powles,Joint Criminal Enterprise Journal of International Criminal Justice 2004 2(2):606-619; doi:10.1093/jicj/2.2.606
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ John Robert Cencich: Crime and War: Piercing the Military Veil Through International Criminal Justice, University of Notre Dame (2008)
  11. ^ John Robert Cencich: (2009)International Criminal Justice ReviewInternational Criminal Investigations of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity: A War Crimes Investigator's Perspective,
  12. ^ Cencich, John, (2013). The Devil's Garden: A War Crimes Investigator's Story, Washington, DC: Potomac Books.
  13. ^ "Reasons for decision on prosecution interlocutory appeal from refusal to order joinder", Slobodan Milosevic: ICTY Appeal Chamber Decision on case numbers IT-99-37-AR73, IT-01-50-AR73 and IT-01-51-AR73, 2002-04-18 see footnote 41 and paragraphs 8 and 21
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b ICTY, Vojislav Seselj indictment, 15 January 2003
  17. ^ a b c d ICTY Judgement Summary For Milutinović et al, the Hague, 26 February 2009
  18. ^ Carla del Ponte, ICTY, Prosecutor. et alThird Amended Indictment of Milutinović , The Hague, 19 July 2002
  19. ^ a b ICTY. Case information sheet: Milutinović et al.
  20. ^ Linda Strite Murnane, Ten Years After the War in Kosovo: International Law, Kosovo and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, The American Society of International Law Insights, Volume 13, Issue 7, June 10, 2009
  21. ^ Gotovina's indictment
  22. ^ Bosnian Croat leaders convicted of war crimes, Al Jazeera
  23. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 955. S/RES/955(1994) 8 November 1994. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  24. ^ a b John Laughland: Conspiracy, joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility in international criminal law
  25. ^ Klaus Bachmann, Aleksandar Fatić: The UN International Criminal Tribunals. Transition without Justice? Routledge 2015

External links

  • Jasmina Pjanić, Joint Criminal Enterprise
  • Peter Zahra, Common Purpose and Joint Criminal Enterprise
  • John Ciorciari, Joint Criminal Enterprise and the Khmer Rouge Prosecutions
  • Gunel Guliyeva, The Concept of Joint Criminal Enterprise and ICC Jurisdiction
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