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U.S. Leads Boycott Of 'Unbalanced' UN Justice Meeting

  • RFE/RL

UN General Assembly President and former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic opens a session at UN headquarters on the work of international war crime tribunals on April 10.

UN General Assembly President and former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic opens a session at UN headquarters on the work of international war crime tribunals on April 10.

The United States has led a boycott of a UN General Assembly meeting on international justice.

The April 10 meeting and panel discussion were set up by former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who is serving as president of the 193-nation assembly.

European and other Western countries have said that the session on international justice was a thinly veiled attack on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which Serbia has criticized.

Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said, "The United States strongly disagrees with the decision of the president of the General Assembly to hold an unbalanced, inflammatory thematic debate today on the role of international criminal justice in reconciliation and will not participate."

Jordan and Canada joined the United States in boycotting the debate, while EU countries only sent low-ranking diplomats or officials to the gathering.

Since it was set up in 1993, the ICTY has indicted 161 people for crimes committed during the wars that accompanied the breakup of the Yugoslav federation. Fifteen of them have been acquitted. Several dozen suspects remain on trial.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, however, told the meeting that there was a near-systematic "lynch-mobbing" of Serbian defendants at the international court, and accused it of bias.

"International justice is very much needed today, but it has to be legal and legitimate. International justice can be implemented only by a permanent International Court of Justice," Nikolic said.

"Proof of that is the absence of the president and members of the Hague tribunal [today]. If they don't respect the oldest rule of 'audiatur et altera pars,' or 'let's hear the other side,' how can we expect any law or justice from them?"

Croatian Generals

Serbia and its ally Russia have sharply criticized the tribunal over recent decisions to free Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and a Kosovo Albanian former guerilla commander.

"It is surprising how easily -- by three votes against two -- [the Hague tribunal] overturned the unanimous, extensive verdicts by the court of first instance for Gotovina and Markac for mass murder, repression, and the deportation of the Serbian population, a verdict that was based on the results of several years of investigation," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, told the April 10 meeting.

However, Croatian Ambassador to the UN Ranko Vilovic said that the court's decisions must be respected regardless of personal feelings.

"Although my country was not always necessarily pleased with [the ICTY's] procedures, rulings, or decisions, it has at all times cooperated with the ICTY to the best of its abilities, respected its decisions, and never challenged them outside the established procedure," Vilovic said.

"This is exactly what we expect from everybody else, particularly from the countries with which the tribunal is directly involved."

UN diplomats said that Jeremic refused to let the Mothers of Srebrenica group, representing families of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed in the 1995 massacre, take part.

Some diplomats have privately accused Jeremic of using the General Assembly to promote his own career and his home country.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters