Prisca Matimba Nyambe: who is the dissenting judge in Ratko Mladić case?

Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe has booked a place in legal history books for presiding over one of the most significant appeal chamber hearings on genocide and crimes against humanity, while disagreeing with almost every one of its rulings.

The 69-year-old Zambian jurist is described by the Institute for African Women in Law as “a bold, remarkable, and inspiring example of legal brilliance”. She is said to be fluent in Tonga, Soli, Nyanja and Bemba, with a working knowledge of French, Swahili and Lozi. She was part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the sister court to The Hague tribunal for former Yugoslavia, rising to become its chief counsel.

On Tuesday, she pronounced the words “Judge Nyambe dissenting” repeatedly as she dutifully read out the chamber’s decisions while disowning them. By her dissents she signaled that she believed the original trial, which ended in a life sentence for Ratko Mladić for genocide and crimes against humanity, was fatally flawed and that the Bosnian Serb general deserved a retrial.

Nyambe also indicated she accepted Mladić’s version of the removal of up to 30,000 Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, after the enclave’s fall to his forces, was done for “humanitarian reasons”.

She was alone in all her dissents on the five judge panels, and the pained expressions of the others were occasionally visible in the live stream feed from the court, but her views were not a surprise.

In 2012, she caused consternation about legal observers by dissenting from the court’s conviction of one of Mladić’s generals, Zdravko Tolimir, in which she said the massacre of about 8,000 men and teenage boys from Srebrenica was the work of “a small group of individuals operating in an unauthorised and secreted manner”.

In that dissenting opinion, she also said the separation of Muslim men and boys from their families was “to legitimately screen for war criminals”.

She even had admiring words for Mladić himself, pointing for example to a meeting in the Hotel Fontana in which he browbeat the hapless Dutch UN commander into handing over the Muslim civilians, noting that the general had been “welcoming, offering comforts to the attendees such as cigarettes, beer, and sandwiches for lunch”.

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