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Former Yugoslavia: Task Force Calls For Apprehension Of War Criminals

Washington, 22 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Members of an international task force say more assertive action by the U.S. and other NATO members is necessary to apprehend indicted war criminals, especially those in the former Yugoslavia.

Richard Goldstone, a member of South Africa's constitutional court and chairman of the task force, told reporters at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday that the U.S. and other NATO members needed to engage in a more "aggressive" military policy to bring to trial those persons indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The task force, formed by the Twentieth Century Fund -- a U.S.-based, non-profit international research foundation which studies economic, political and social issues -- includes many high-profile personalities from around the world.

Among its members are: Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, President of the European Liberal Party and a member of the Danish parliament; Benjamin B. Ferencz, a former war crimes prosecutor at Nuremberg; Anibal Cavaco Silva, a former prime minister of Portugal; Leo Tindemans, a former prime minister of Belgium; Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and Nazi holocaust survivor; and George Soros, international financier and chairman of the Open Society Institute.

The task force is meeting in Washington this week to mark the release of a report evaluating the policy of apprehending indicted war criminals in the former Yugoslavia.

Goldstone, who was also the first chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, told reporters the report is highly critical of international efforts so far to apprehend indicted war criminals in Bosnia, but that efforts must continue to actively and tirelessly pursue war crimes suspects.

A summary of the report was given to reporters at the press conference. The report says, in part: "The failure of the international community to apprehend or ensure the apprehension by local forces of the remaining 52 publicly indicted war criminals, including the notorious Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, a full two years after the signing of the Dayton Accords has helped consolidate Bosnia's ethnic partition, exacerbated the political and economic tensions in the country, poisoned its social and cultural institutions, and entrenched its ultranationalist and ethnic-supremacist forces."

Goldstone says in order to bring the suspects to justice, the task force determined that "aggressive military force" should be utilized to apprehend indicted war criminals in Bosnia.

He says the task force recommends that U.S. and NATO forces use forceful methods similar to those undertaken to capture war crimes suspects Milan Kovacevic, Slavko Dokmanovic, Vlatko Kupreskic, and others.

The task force also chides the U.S. for being reluctant to participate in such actions because it fears casualties among its troops. The report says that while there are risks involved in any military operation of this type, "the risk of not apprehending the indicted and allowing them to continue to wield political and financial power in Bosnia and undermine the peace process is far greater."

The task force also says that war crimes suspects should have their individual assets frozen and countries who harbor them should be subjected to tough UN economic sanctions.

The report also says that the Yugoslav Tribunal and a similar Rwandan Tribunal are serving as test cases for the implementation of a permanent International Criminal Court. However, the report adds that creating such a court will be impossible if the international community "cannot even bring to justice indictees who are living in a region controlled by tens of thousands of heavily-armed troops."

Says the report: "Given the scale of the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, if the international community is perceived to have granted a de facto amnesty for the major perpetrators, it will send a signal to other future rogue regimes ... that they have nothing to lose by engaging in such criminal acts, regardless of whether the international community creates a standing International Criminal Court."

Goldstone says the task force report also urges the establishment of a "non-amnesty based truth commission", the adoption of a process for ejecting suspected war criminals from the military and police forces, and the creation of a victims' compensation commission.

The report concludes: "There can be neither lasting peace nor an end to the long, national nightmare of Bosnia until all war criminals are arrested and brought to justice. The U.S. and the European Union will have failed a profound test of their moral, ethical, political and military leadership in the world if they do not act decisively to end the illegitimate freedom of men who have committed and condoned grave and heinous crimes against humanity."