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Balkans: Amnesty Criticizes Failure To Arrest War Criminals

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 12 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights group, Amnesty International, has criticized the international community for not pressing ahead with efforts to seek out and arrest those responsible for war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

In a statement issued last night (Thursday), Amnesty says that no arrest was made of a suspect indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia who approached the multinational Stabilization Force (SFOR) voluntarily and offered to give himself up.

The statement cites a Washington Post article published on December 9 which said that the Bosnian Croat approached Dutch troops serving with SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina to inquire whether he had been secretly indicted by the Tribunal, in which case he was ready to give himself up.

The SFOR officers reportedly contacted Tribunal officials and were erroneously told that the Bosnian Croat was not on any list.

Later, Tribunal officials reportedly said that the Bosnian Croat had indeed been indicted in 1996.

But according to the Washington Post, a U.S. Army Major General serving as a senior operations officer for SFOR declined the Tribunal's requests for SFOR to arrest the man. He further refused to escort a Tribunal official who intended to go and arrest the man at his house.

The unnamed Bosnian Croat is reported to be still at large.

The Amnesty statement cites a statement about the incident by a U.S. State Department official who said earlier this week: "We really have nothing to be ashamed of concerning our track record on the arrest of indicted war criminals or their detention over the last several months."

The Amnesty statement said that, since July, when troops serving with SFOR arrested one secretly-indicted Bosnian Serb suspect, and shot dead another during an attempt to arrest him in Prijedor, SFOR has not made any further arrests. However, nine publicly indicted Bosnian Croats voluntarily surrendered and another who had been detained in Croatia was transferred to the Tribunal in October, 1997.

The statement says: "The national authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina should immediately act on all indictments issued by the Tribunal. But, given the reluctance and in some cases blatant refusal by some authorities in the region to fully cooperate with the Tribunal, the international community should not wait for national authorities to make arrests."

The statement says the international community "should live up to their responsibility under international law to seek out and arrest those responsible for war crimes."

Amnesty also says that the "communication shortfall" between the Tribunal and the SFOR "is an embarrassment which needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency to ensure that a similar fiasco is not repeated."

The statement says: "Amnesty International believes that such communication glitches cannot excuse SFOR from failing to live up not only to its obligations under international law, but also to its own mandate which says that it will arrest indicted suspects if it encounters them." It says: "As the international community itself recognized yesterday (Wednesday) at a meeting of the Peace Implementation Council in Bonn, the need for those responsible for war crimes to be brought to justice is a critical part of ensuring that the fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina can persist." Amnesty International added: "The majority of publicly-known indicted suspects who remain at large are Bosnian Serbs, who refuse to recognize the authority of the Tribunal."