Toronto Sun | Oct. 12, 2003 | Orest Slepokura

Count our blessings

The Editor:

Re: "While we count our blessings, Israel counts bodies," John Downing, Toronto Sun, October 12, 2003.

John Downing claims that Palestinians, unlike Israelis, will cheer the specter of violence. But Israelis also have their cheering sections. The late Lord Denning deplored the jubilation in a Jerusalem court after it condemned John Demjanjuk to hang for Nazi war crimes: "The atmosphere at the trial can be seen by the report that there was 'clapping, cheering and dancing' by the packed 'audience' when he was sentenced to death. When I have sentenced to death there was a hushed calm and solemn silence." [1] Demjanjuk was later cleared of the charges against him by Israel's Supreme Court.

Sincerely yours,

Orest Slepokura
Strathmore, AB

c. John Downing

1. Lord Denning London Daily Telegraph 28-Apr-1988
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Trial was contrary to international law

Letters to the editor

SIR - John Demjanjuk has been tried by the judges of Israel and sentenced to death (report, April 25, 1988). I would ask these questions.

First, against what law had he offended? Not against the law of Israel. The offences were committed in the years 1942-1943 before the State of Israel existed or had any laws of its own. It was not founded until 1948. Nor were the offences committed against the laws of Germany or Poland. They were committed in the concentration camp at Treblinka and were done by the orders of those in authority in those states.

The only law against which he had offended was the international law in respect of crimes against humanity.

It was defined in the Charter of Nürnberg: "Murder, extermination, and enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war."

Second, what state had jurisdiction to try such crimes against humanity? According to international law a single state after the war might have jurisdiction to set up its special court to try such crimes committed by persons in its custody. The four powers who signed the Charter for Nürnberg acted on this principle by agreeing to set up the Nürnberg Court to try the war criminals then in custody in Germany.

But I know of no principle by which the State of Israel could set up such a court to try crimes said to be committed over 40 years earlier in a far off country by a man not in its custody.

In my opinion it was contrary to international law for the State of Israel to arrange with the United States for the deportation of Demjanjuk to Israel to stand trial there; and for the Court of Israel to try him there for a crime against humanity. If he was to be tried at all it should have been by an international court of justice like the one set up in Nürnberg for he was a war criminal just like Goering and the rest.

I am afraid too that the trial shows signs of racial and political vengeance. Whereas at the trial at Nürnberg the prosecution's case against those convicted was clear on the documents and undisputed, here there was room for doubt. The prosecution's case was rested on identification by witnesses over 40 years later. But we all know how mistakes are made by the witnesses at identification parades here. The accused protested his innocence throughout.

The atmosphere at the trial can be seen by the report that there was "clapping, cheering and dancing" by the packed "audience" when he was sentenced to death. When I have sentenced to death there was a hushed calm and solemn silence.

Lord DENNING
Whitchurch, Hants

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DENNING, Baron (Life Peer), cr. 1957, of Whitchurch; Alfred Thompson Denning, P.C., M.A.; British lawyer; b. 23 Jan. 1899; ed. Magdalen Coll., Oxford; called to the bar, Lincoln's Inn 1923; K.C. 1938; High Court Judge 1944; Lord Justice of Appeal 1948-57; Nominated Judge for War Pensions Appeals 1945-48; Chair. Cttee. on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes 1946-47; Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1957-62; Master of the Rolls 1962-82; Chair. Cttee. on Legal Educ. for Students from Africa 1962; Treas. Lincoln's Inn 1964; Head of Security Enquiry 1963; Dimbleby Lecture 1980; Hon. D.C.L. (Oxford) 1965, Hon. LL.D. (Columbia) 1976, and 17 other hon. degrees; Hon. Fellow, British Acad. Publications: Freedom under the Law 1949, The Changing Law 1953, The Road to Justice 1955, The Discipline of Law 1979, The Due Process of Law 1980, The Family Story 1981, What Next in the Law 1982, The Closing Chapter 1983, Landmarks in the Law 1984, Leaves from my Library 1986. Address: The Lawn, Whitchurch, Hants., England. (Who's Who 1987)