The UN Security Council's "completion strategy" calls for the court to end all trials by the end of 2008 and all appeals by 2010. But Meron told the council yesterday that it will now need to continue trial work well into 2009.
Meron said up to seven months could be added to trial schedules in the event of the arrest in the near future of Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina.
Meron repeated that the court must try the three top fugitives before finishing its work. "Our historical mission will not have been accomplished and we will not close our doors before Karadzic, Mladic, and Gotovina have arrived at The Hague and have been tried according to the whole panoply of due process and human rights protection that our jurisprudence affords," he said.
Mladic and Karadzic have been charged by the court with genocide in connection with their actions in Bosnia's civil war, including the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. Gotovina is charged with war crimes allegedly committed by Croatian troops retaking territory from ethnic Serbs in a separate conflict.
There have been recent media reports, denied by the Serbian government, that Mladic is on Serbian territory and negotiating his surrender to the tribunal in exchange for security and financial assurances for his family.
The ICTY's heavy caseload and complicated timetable result from a significant improvement in cooperation from former Yugoslav states. Those states have been under considerable political and economic pressure from the European Union and Washington to cooperate.
The ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, cited this in her comments to the Security Council. But she said leaders in the region need to improve efforts to ensure the handover of the three top fugitives plus seven other indictees.
"We have seen in the past months dramatic improvements in the external conditions impacting heavily on the completion strategy. Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, and Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina are not yet cooperating fully with the ICTY. However, all of them have shown considerable progress in their cooperation," Del Ponte said.
Del Ponte also said she believes two fugitives are in Russia: Vlastimir Djordjevic, a Serbian police general indicted for alleged atrocities committed in Kosovo, and Dragan Zelenovic, a military police officer indicted for crimes against humanity during the 1992 Bosnian Serb assault on the Bosnia town of Foca.
Del Ponte said Russian authorities have told her they are ready to assist the probe.
Council members stressed the importance of sticking to the completion timetable for the courts and pressed states to cooperate to bring the final fugitives to justice.
The envoy of Japan, which is a major donor to the tribunal, expressed concern about Meron's comments on extending the timetable for trials and his request to add facilities to process cases.
"Security Council Resolution 1534 emphasized the importance of full implementation of the completion strategies, including the completion of all trial activities at first instance by the end of 2008," Japanese envoy Shinichi Kitaoka said.
"The ICTY should take all possible measures to meet this goal."
But France's deputy UN ambassador, Michel Duclos, said the council should not allow a strict timetable to result in "impunity by default" to at-large fugitives.