About Michael G. Karnavas

photogallery6-michael-courtroom-18-jul-12-3Michael G. Karnavas is an American trained lawyer. He is licensed in Alaska and Massachusetts and is qualified to appear before the various international tribunals, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). Residing and practicing primarily in The Hague, he is recognized as an expert in international criminal defence, including, pre-trial, trial, and appellate advocacy.  Click here to visit Michael’s web site.

Michael G. Karnavas lectures students at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies on the role of defence counsel:


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News and Events

    • On 9 December 2017, Michael G. Karnavas delivered a presentation via Skype at the annual conference of the Association of Defence Counsel practising before the International Courts and Tribunals (ADC-ICT). This year’s theme was International Crimes: Past, Present and Future Perspectives. Participating on the panel focusing on the current developments relating to the core crimes at the international(ized) criminal courts and tribunals, Mr. Karnavas discussed the meaning of “civilian” for the purpose of Crimes Against Humanity at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This issue emerged in light of the recent call for submissions and decision by International Co-Investigating Judge Michael Bohlander, who is currently investigating Cases 003 and 004. The question posed by Judge Bohlander in his call for submissions, to which eleven amici curiae along with the parties responded, was whether under customary international law between 1975 and 1979 (ECCC’s temporal jurisdiction) an attack against a state’s own armed forces amounted to an attack against a civilian population for crimes against humanity. To view the Summary of Michael G. Karnavas’s presentation click here. For an in-depth discussion of this issue, see his three-part blog post series here, here, and here.
    • On 25-27 October 2017, Michael G. Karnavas participated in the Academy Colloquium International Criminal Justice and the Enforcement Deficit: In Search of Sui Generis Theories and Procedure at The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) organized by Professor André Klip (Maastricht University) and Professor Steven Freeland (University of Western Sydney). The discussion was divided into four blocks addressing: The Character of the (Hybrid) International Criminal Tribunal (Block 1); Substantive Criminal Law Issues (Block 2); Procedural Challenges (Block 3); and Evading Pavlov, is international criminal justice the only way? (Block 4) Click here for the Colloquium Agenda and here for a blog post on Michael G. Karnavas’s presentation on the Position of the Defence and Adequate Facilities.
    • On 24 October 2017, Michael G. Karnavas participated in Evidence Commentary Coordination and Authors’ Meeting at the premises of the German Embassy in The Hague. The project’s aim is to publish a commentary on the law of evidence at the international criminal courts and tribunals, which would serve as a comprehensive guide for practitioners and scholars alike on the growing jurisprudence on evidence. Michael G. Karnavas will focus and analyze the relevant law on the topic of the testimony of the accused.

    Continue reading “News and Events”


      Leaving the client without a lawyer to protect his rights could even be worse. I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing, but I don’t think I really had a choice.

      US Navy Lieutenant Alaric Piette 

      In an earlier post I nominated Marine Brigadier General John Baker, Chief Defense Counsel of the Military Commissions Defense Organization at Guantanamo Bay, for the 2017 Defense Lawyer Profile of Courage. Brig. Gen. Baker risked his military career, his future, his retirement benefits and much more by doing the right thing when lesser defense counsel in his place would have caved in or have deluded themselves into believing that going along to get along was ethically the right thing to do.

      Brig. Gen. Baker gave no quarter: he discharged three civilian members of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s defense team (Richard Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears), who were no longer able to ethically represent their client because communications with their client were secretly being monitored by the US government. This left al-Nashiri with just a single military lawyer, former US Navy SEAL, Lieutenant Alaric Piette. By his own admissions Lt. Piette is not learned – qualified by specialized training and experience to defend Guantanamo accused in cases where the US government is seeking the death penalty. Continue reading “ETHICALLY CONSTRAINED DEFENSE COUNSEL MUST WITHDRAW”


      Responding to Professor Roman Serbyn re Book Review: RED FAMINE – Stalin’s War on Ukraine

        I received a comment on my review of Anne Applebaum’s latest book: RED FAMINE – Stalin’s War on Ukraine, from Professor Roman Serbyn.  Professor Serbyn is an historian, and a professor emeritus of Russian and East European history at the University of Quebec at Montreal, and an expert on Ukraine. He is well known for his books and many articles about Ukrainian history, particularly the Holodomor.  I thank Professor Serbyn for his comment and questions, and respond below. Continue reading “Responding to Professor Roman Serbyn re Book Review: RED FAMINE – Stalin’s War on Ukraine”


        Executions and Mass Graves in Myanmar: Can intent be inferred from the recruitment of civilians by the military to assist in its operations or in doing its bidding?

          On 8 February 2018, Reuters published a special report – Massacre in Myanmar: How Myanmar forces burned, looted and killed in a remote village.

          In preparing the report, Reuters journalist Simon D. Lewis contacted me to comment on legal issues. Over several exchanges of emails and three lengthy telephone conversations, the primary discussion revolved around one central question: whether the recruitment of civilians to assist parts of the operation could be used to demonstrate intent. The extent of our discussions was reduced to a soundbite in print. Though it captures the essence of my assessment based on the factual predicate presented to me, the quote attributed to me warrants further elaboration considering that I invoked the crime of genocide as a possibility. Continue reading “Executions and Mass Graves in Myanmar: Can intent be inferred from the recruitment of civilians by the military to assist in its operations or in doing its bidding?”


          SCRUTINIZING DUTERTE’S EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS: What has taken ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda so long to act?

            He is sick and tired of being accused. … He wants to be in court to put the prosecutor on the stand.

            Harry Roque, Philippines Presidential Spokesperson

            Finally. On 8 February 2018, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would open a preliminary examination on the widely publicized allegations of extra-judicial killings ordered by President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, committed as part of his war on drugs.

            Before I get to the finally, some context. Continue reading “SCRUTINIZING DUTERTE’S EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS: What has taken ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda so long to act?”


            WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE: Comment and Response

              I greatly appreciate those who take time to comment on my blog posts.  Sometimes praise. Other times critical.  Often expanding the conversation.  Always welcome. When appropriate, I will make a brief reply directly in the comment function.  However, whether due to the subject matter or length of the reply, I will occasionally reply in a free-standing post.  Today’s post is such an occasion, as I respond to a lengthy comment from Mr. Bryan Miller to my post WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE: Abandoning ship or doing what is in the client’s best interest.

              Dear Bryan,

              Thank you for your recent comment to my post WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE:  Abandoning ship or doing what is in the client’s best interest. First, let me say that it is good to hear from you and see that you are doing well in your diverse private practice.  Though I was sorry to see that you didn’t include in your professional bio your time working for me in The Hague as an extern on the Ieng Sary case at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.  In any event, many of your comments and questions are obviously beyond the scope of the post, though interesting nonetheless. I address them seriatim: Continue reading “WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE: Comment and Response”


              THE LIBYAN REFERRAL: Trojan Horse or Realpolitik Casualty

                I once again repeat my call to Libya to take all necessary steps possible to immediately arrest and surrender Mr al-Werfalli to the ICC. I also repeat my call on all States, including members of the United Nations Security Council, to support Libya in facilitating Mr al-Werfalli’s arrest and surrender to the Court.

                Only when perpetrators realise there will be serious consequences for their crimes can we hope to deter future crimes.

                I am dismayed that Mr al-Werfalli appears to remain in a position of command, and allegedly continues to commit crimes with impunity, despite an official statement from the General Command of the Libyan National Army (“LNA”) in August 2017 that Mr al-Werfalli had been arrested and was under investigation by a military prosecutor. I once again call on General Khalifa Haftar, as commander of the LNA and superior of Mr al-Werfalli, to heed my previous call to the LNA to work with the Libyan authorities to enable the suspect’s immediate arrest and surrender to the ICC.

                The appalling cycle of violence and impunity in Libya cannot be allowed to continue for the sake of the Libyan people and the security and stability of the country and the region.

                ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Statement 26 January 2018

                The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was prompted to speak out and to once again solicit the assistance of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) concerning the situation in Libya. This time it was about the two car-bombings on 23 January 2018 detonated by unidentified persons outside the Baya’at Al-Radwan mosque in Benghazi, Libya that killed more than 34 civilians, including children, and wounded over 90 others, and a video surfacing the following day apparently showing Major Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli executing 10 persons in front of the Baya’at Al-Radwan mosque, purportedly in retaliation for the two car-bombings.

                To appreciate Bensouda’s call for assistance from the UNSC, we must reflect back to 2011 when Libya was engulfed in a civil war. On 26 February 2011, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and consistent with Article 13(b) the Rome Statute, the UNSC passed Resolution 1970, calling on the ICC to investigate the mass atrocities and human rights abuses which occurred (and continue to occur) in Libya during and after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. In keeping with its obligations, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has unhesitatingly abided – despite the lack of any appreciable assistance from the UNSC.  Continue reading “THE LIBYAN REFERRAL: Trojan Horse or Realpolitik Casualty”


                WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE: Abandoning ship or doing what is in the client’s best interest

                  In my last post, I discussed potential conflicts of interest arising in the multiple representation of witnesses in the ongoing investigations concerning the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to throw the 2016 U.S. presidential election and President Trump’s interference with this investigation. Apropos of that discussion, we now learn that three high-flying former prosecutors defending Rick Gates – a former Trump campaign aide – have moved to withdraw for reasons unknown. Speculation has it that counsel are seeking to withdraw because their client wishes to cooperate with U.S. Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. The reasons behind the two-page request to withdraw will be filed confidentially, so all we can do is speculate. Be that as it may, the conjecture on the request to withdraw serves as an exquisite springboard to our further discussion on counsel’s ethical obligations to loyally, zealously, and diligently represent clients. Continue reading “WITHDRAWING FROM A CASE: Abandoning ship or doing what is in the client’s best interest”


                  Representing Multiple Witnesses: a risky gambit

                    It’s a general pool type of relationship where, if a conflict arises, where everyone in good faith will try to figure out what the best way to proceed is. I can never be adverse to one of those guys.

                    William Burck in Darren Samuelsohn, Bannon Lawyer Juggles Clients, Risks Conflicts in Russia Probe, POLITICO, 25 January 2018

                    A conflict of interest between an attorney and a client arises in any situation where, by reason of certain circumstances, representation by such an attorney prejudices, or could prejudice, the interests of the client and the wider interests of justice. Most systems of law have rules governing the participation of an attorney in a trial when there is a conflict of interest between the attorney and the client; such a conflict affects the essential fairness of the trial, and in respect of the Tribunal, implicates, first, the responsibility of the Trial Chamber … to ‘ensure that a trial is fair … with full respect for the rights of the accused…,’ and secondly, the right of the accused … to a fair trial.

                    Prosecutor v. Simić et al., IT-95-9-PT, Decision on the Prosecution Motion to Resolve Conflict of Interest Regarding Attorney Borislav Pisarević, 25 March 1999, p. 6.

                    Whose interests are you really looking after when you represent multiple clients in a case?

                    Imagine you are called upon to represent several witnesses in an ongoing investigation. As you conduct your initial interview with these potential clients, can you guarantee that you can fully, fairly, and forthrightly represent their interests, that you will utterly respect and keep secret any information they pass on to you, that you will not compromise their interests while zealously representing one of the other potential clients/witnesses, that you will not suggest an adjustment of perceptions or inferences drawn from a memory of events, or that you will not abandon any of the potential clients midway through the case after amassing institutional memory for a handsome, non-refundable fee?

                    Identifying and dealing with conflicts of interest can be pesky, especially when there are huge fees and/or lots of publicity to be had. Indulging in self-delusion that a conflict does not really exist – or that if one does, there is a way around it (all the stars are aligned) – is not as uncommon as one might expect, even amongst the very best of lawyers. Whether it is greed, publicity, irrational self-confidence, or profound obliviousness that causes lawyers to ignore or attempt to minimize conflicts matters not. What is at stake is the client’s fate. Continue reading “Representing Multiple Witnesses: a risky gambit”



                      People can walk themselves into jail. They can walk themselves, regrettably, into the gas chamber. But they have a right to tell their story.

                      U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

                      Is it constitutionally permissible for defense counsel to admit his client’s guilt over the client’s express objection? 

                      This was the question argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last week on 17 January 2018, in Robert McCoy v. Louisiana. At play is the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

                      In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence. Continue reading “ARGUING YOUR CLIENT’S GUILT OVER HIS OBJECTIONS AS A SENTENCE-MITIGATION STRATEGY: An ethically impermissible objective”


                      The MICT’s opaque practice of varying witness protective measures: time to recalibrate

                        [T]he Mechanism is making excellent progress with its judicial work in general, all the while continuing to learn from experience, and recalibrating internal practices as necessary to ensure optimal efficiency and economy.

                        MICT President Theodor Meron’s Address to the UN Security Council, 7 June 2017

                        Reflecting on last year’s events, I noted how the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) – the post-conviction judicial institution which has taken over all residual matters of the now-defunct International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – was working efficiently, though parsimoniously (providing no legal aid to convicted persons unless any claims for post-conviction relief prepared by pro bono defence counsel are found to be meritorious). In retrospect, I should have presented a more guarded and less sanguine picture. It seems I may have been too generous in my assessment. Mea culpa. Continue reading “The MICT’s opaque practice of varying witness protective measures: time to recalibrate”