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War Crimes Tribunal Battles Intransigence, Deadlines

  • Robert McMahon

http://gdb.rferl.org/EAB7442F-A11E-41D2-AF34-1C83A12A73A6_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/EAB7442F-A11E-41D2-AF34-1C83A12A73A6_mw800_mh600.jpg United Nations, 29 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The chief prosecutor of the UN's war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says Serbia and Montenegro has become a "safe haven" for at least 15 accused war criminals.

Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told the UN Security Council today that authorities in Belgrade have provided almost no cooperation with the court since December. She said she is waiting to see whether the recent election of reformist Boris Tadic as president will lead to progress.

"In the absence of a significant number of transfers of fugitives in the weeks to come, I will have to conclude that Serbia and Montenegro continues to be unwilling to abide by its international legal obligations," Del Ponte said.

Del Ponte and the president of the tribunal, Judge Theodore Meron, urged the Security Council to allow for flexibility in the plan that calls for the tribunal to cease in 2010.

An adherence to rigid deadlines, they said, could undermine efforts at rendering justice and maintaining peace in the former Yugoslavia.

They said it would be difficult for the tribunal to meet its deadlines because of problems beyond their control.

Del Ponte and Meron pointed to severe funding shortfalls from UN members and a lack of cooperation in apprehending high-level indictees such as Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and Croat Ante Gotovina.
"An unintended consequence of the completion strategy is that fugitives and their protective networks are trying to buy time until 2008 in hopes of evading justice, as they believe the time to be tried in the Hague will soon expire." -- chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte


Del Ponte said the failure to arrest chief war crimes suspects threatened the prosecution's efforts to complete all trials by 2008 as mandated by the Security Council.

"An unintended consequence of the completion strategy is that fugitives and their protective networks are trying to buy time until 2008 in hopes of evading justice, as they believe the time to be tried in the Hague will soon expire," Del Ponte said.

Del Ponte called on the council to affirm that the tribunal will remain open as long as necessary to ensure top accused criminals are brought to international justice.

Key council members agreed that top suspects must be tried in The Hague.

Britain's deputy UN ambassador, Adam Thomson, said authorities in Belgrade must comply with the tribunal.

"Cooperation is a requirement, not an option," Thomson said. "Continuing noncompliance will frustrate any Serbia-Montenegrin aspirations to closer integration with Euro-Atlantic structures."

Judge Meron reported progress on efforts to prepare local jurisdictions in Bosnia and Croatia to handle cases involving lower-ranking suspects. He said the war crimes chamber in Sarajevo is nearly ready to hold "credible and fair" trials.

Croatia has significantly improved its cooperation, Meron said, but concerns remain about the impartiality of some parts of the Croatian judiciary. He also repeated said the failure to arrest fugitive general Ante Gotovina remains a "grave concern."

Meron warned that once local jurisdictions begin hearing cases, the tribunal should avoid transferring cases of high-level accused in order to meet the council deadlines for the completion strategy.

Meron urged the council not to follow what he called a "rigid and mechanistic" strategy for completing the tribunal's work.

"To depart from the tribunal's mission to try those most responsible for alleged violations of international humanitarian law risks undermining the Security Council's decision to establish the tribunal and doing a disservice to the cause of international justice," Meron said.

The tribunal has tried 35 accused and involved in proceedings with an additional 59 defendants. Del Ponte said there are 12 cases involving 22 accused that could be transferred to local jurisdictions.
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