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Balkans: Former Kosovar Leader's Surrender Highlights UN Court's Recent Successes

  • Jeremy Bransten

Ramush Haradinaj (file photo) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week praised Ramush Haradinaj for stepping down as prime minister of Kosovo and surrendering to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Although the indictment has not been made public, the charges are believed to stem from his leading role in the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s. Established in 1993 to prosecute war crimes on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, the court's record has been mixed. Some top indictees continue to elude detention, but the tribunal has enjoyed some recent successes.

Prague, 10 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ramush Haradinaj's voluntary surrender to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) marks another milestone for a court that has been criticized as slow and ineffectual.

Haradinaj, speaking in Kosovo on 8 March, said he saw his surrender as a sacrifice that might benefit his people. "I am innocent and, as a result of this indictment, I gave my resignation as prime minister and will leave tomorrow for The Hague," he said. "My message is to continue on the road to building an independent Kosova."

Haradinaj was alluding to the fact that the Serbian province's ethnic Albanian leaders hope to begin talks on possible independence later this year. They will need the goodwill of the international community if they are to achieve their goal.

Haradinaj's surrender marks an exceptional week for the tribunal. On 7 March, Serbian General Momcilo Perisic also arrived in The Hague to join the roughly 50 detainees currently awaiting trial. Perisic was the chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army from 1993 to 1998 and was one of the court's most wanted indictees. He is accused of playing a key role in the siege of Sarajevo and faces eight counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of violating the laws or customs of war.

In recent months, six former high-ranking Serbian and Bosnian Serb officers have arrived at the tribunal to face war crimes charges.

The European Union has repeatedly stressed to would-be EU members such as Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina that cooperation with the tribunal is a precondition for any talks about closer ties.
Observers agree that the court's success is likely to be measured by how many political leaders it prosecutes.


At the same time, the war crimes tribunal itself has been under pressure to step up its pace. The United Nations Security Council, which created the special court, has demanded that it complete its work by 2008.

Many of those prosecuted so far at The Hague have been military officers, charged with war crimes in the various conflicts that wracked the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995.

But observers agree that the court's success is likely to be measured by how many political leaders it prosecutes. Those who gave the orders for crimes against humanity and genocide bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities that took places during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

In this category, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the court's most important detainee to date. His trial began in February 2002 and continues to this day. Another important political leader, Milan Milutinovic, who was president of Serbia from 1997 to 2002, surrendered in 2003. Along with Milosevic, he faces charges of crimes against humanity and violation of the laws of war during the Kosovo conflict.

Biljana Plavsic, the former Bosnian Serb president once known as the "Iron Lady," surrendered and pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity. Seven other charges, including genocide, were dropped. Plavsic, unlike most defendants, expressed remorse during her trial. She received an 11-year jail term in 2003, which she is currently serving in a Swedish prison.

Wartime Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic have eluded capture for the past decade, and remain the tribunal's most sought-after prize.

The Hague court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, reiterated this week why undertaking the two men's capture, as soon as possible, is so important. "I was pressuring the international community about the importance of, this year, [the] arrest and transfer of Karadzic and Mladic by the end of this year. Because if I cannot get both accused this year, it will be difficult for me to finish in 2008. So if the Security Council maintains its date limit, it will not be possible to have Karadzic and Mladic in court in The Hague."

On a more optimistic note, the first war crimes court in the Balkans opened in Sarajevo this week. Paddy Ashdown, the international administrator in Bosnia, said the court marks "a huge step forward in equipping Bosnia with a practical capacity to dispense justice, which is essential to Bosnia's claims to full sovereign statehood."

The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber is expected to start taking over cases from International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, easing the workload of The Hague-based court.

In an effort to reduce ethnic distrust among Bosnia's communities, international judges, and prosecutors are expected to take an active role in trials in the new court over atrocities committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
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