Prof. Ståle Eskeland – A Life in the Vanguard for Peace and Justice

OBITUARIES, 28 Dec 2015

Fredrik S. Heffermehl – TRANSCEND Media Service

Ståle Eskeland

Prof. Dr. Ståle Eskeland

Oslo, December 27, 2015

A great Norwegian scholar for peace, justice and a sane foreign policy, Ståle Eskeland, died yesterday at age 72. He was a retired professor of (Norwegian and international) criminal law at the University of Oslo, who never shied away from pointing out social and political wrongs. Eskeland challenged conventional political wisdom and powerful people and institutions with great courage, not minding career and consequences. Speaking truth to power, he still had a way of balancing warm compassion with calm professional judgment that made him a much used commentator when Norwegian media needed someone to interview on a wide range of legal issues.

Professor Eskeland included comments on nuclear disarmament and crimes of aggression in his standard textbook on Criminal law. In 2011 he published a major study of «The Most Serious Crimes» (the crimes of aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, terror, use of weapons of mass destruction.). This book (unfortunately only in Norwegian) also included concrete and fresh examples of NATO (and Norwegian) war crimes – and as a consequence was met with resounding silence by official Norway. Eskeland will be missed as a very needed alternative voice on peace law in the debate on Norway´s foreign policy.

His main work within traditional criminal law subjects in later years was a pioneering effort to reform the evaluation of evidence. His position was that the courts and the two sides in criminal cases must show greater discipline in drawing conclusions on what has happened.

Often the courts have evaluated scientific components in the «chain» of evidence without sufficient background to unmask and discard flawed and untenable science. On occasions, courts have considered constellations of facts as unique and significant with no basis in proper statistic research of frequencies in real life. Eskeland warned against guesswork and rough «overall assessment» in the evaluation of guilt in criminal cases.

To pursue this «science reform» of the legal profession Eskeland established a high-level cross-professional group and tied up with the pioneering Innocence project in the US. Unfortunately, this reform work had a concrete case of miscarried justice as its basis (The Torgersen Case) and reluctance to admitting to a gross mistake seems to have blocked the judiciary and the authorities from vital new insights decisive to preventing wrong convictions in the future. The erroneous methods in drawing conclusions on causal connections is not a problem limited to

Norwegian courts. The work to reverse the conviction of Torgersen continues and, once the basic flaws underlying that conviction are properly understood, it should have worldwide effect.

Eskeland also joined the efforts to have the Norwegian awarders respect the original anti-militarist idea behind Alfred Nobel´s “prize for the champions of peace» and participated in a demand for criminal investigation and several demands that the Swedish authorities intervene.

He repeatedly nominated Richard Falk for the Nobel Peace Prize, for 2015 also IALANA and Peter Weiss.

For his warm, caring and friendly character, his attitudes, ideas, and an untiring commitment to people, peace, society, democracy and justice, Ståle Eskeland will be sorely missed.

He was of a clear mind till the end and was cared for by his wife, Kari Os Eskeland, who is a retired medical doctor.


Fredrik S. Heffermehl, cand. jur, LLM NYU, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and ex-Vice President of the International Peace Bureau. He is the author of The Nobel Peace Prize, What Nobel Really Wanted (Praeger, 2010 – expanded versions in Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish and [2014] Russian). fredpax@online.no


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