Antonio Cassese [JURIST news archive], a renowned Italian international war crimes expert and key figure in the establishment of two international criminal tribunals, died Saturday in Florence, Italy, at the age of 74. Cassese was the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the first President [JURIST report] of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official websites]. In an expert capacity, Cassese was also involved in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] as well as the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur [commission report, PDF]. Upon learning of Cassesse's death, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] praised [press release] Cassese's contributions to the international legal community:
Throughout his distinguished career Antonio Cassese made his exceptional professional skills available to the United Nations. ... In these and many other functions Antonio Cassese shaped the development of international criminal justice and made a major contribution to fighting impunity and bringing about an age of accountability. ... The United Nations will fondly remember Antonio Cassese as a giant of international law, as a loyal friend who was always there when the Organization needed his wise counsel and dedicated services, and mostly as an exceptionally charming and warm human being who courageously stood up for justice, for human rights and for humanity.The STL described Cassese as a pioneer of modern international criminal law, while the ICTY portrayed the human rights activist as a visionary and passionate leader [press releases]. Cassese passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Cassese has been involved in international criminal proceedings as recently as August. Cassese, as president of the STL, had a large role in the trials of four men wanted for killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in 2005. He made a public plea [press release] in August, calling for the men to turn themselves in [JURIST report]. He also guaranteed a fair trial and adequate representation and pressed Lebanese citizens to allow the STL to hold the assassins accountable. In December 2010, Cassese rejected motions [JURIST report] to disqualify Lebanese judges for bias, holding that Lebanese General Jamil El-Sayed had failed to provide enough evidence that the judges were biased such that the mixed-composition panel would be dissolved.