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UN: Tribunal Sees Court 'As 'Experiment' In International Justice

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is struggling with a heavy case load that is bound to get heavier. Its new president, Claude Jorda, has vowed to make reforms to the trial process to expedite cases but he stresses that the Hague-based effort to prosecute war crimes is still very much an "experiment" in international justice.

United Nations, 4 February 2000 (RFE/RF) -- Claude Jorda says that the problem with overcrowded court calendars is common to even the most developed democracies.

But he says an international criminal tribunal faces further problems, such as language, logistics, and knowledge of the law that are alien to most jurisdictions. Further complicating matters is the lack of cooperation from governments in helping to turn over accused war criminals.

Jorda was appointed last November as president of the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and in a visit to UN headquarters this week he has been discussing administrative reforms of the tribunal. He told reporters at a press briefing yesterday that the tribunal is confronted with a plethora of cases and an inability to deal with them expeditiously. Some cases have been delayed as long as 18 months.

Jorda said without reforms, the tribunal will soon have trouble doing its work.

"One must know that we have more and more accusations, more accused, more and more people arrested and thus detentions that last longer and longer."

A UN panel of legal experts has presented a draft report to the tribunal recommending changes to help expedite cases. Among the recommendations are the use of ad hoc independent judges to handle some of the case load and a more efficient use of the court hearing rooms available in The Hague.

Jorda told reporters the tribunal is working with the panel on reviewing all aspects of the tribunal's operations, including the functioning of the prosecutor's office, the witness protection program, and the system of providing defense attorneys for those accused without legal representation.

Jorda is a French national who has served as a judge on the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 1994. He repeatedly mentioned yesterday the complexity of running a justice system in which the handling of each case involves so many variables.

"We have the witnesses who come from very far away. It's necessary to protect them. The slightest incident could delay proceedings by a day. Some witnesses cannot come (to The Hague) because of a technical problem, a diplomatic problem or a visa problem. It must be said that this is a very complex system of justice. We can be seen as a experimental laboratory in relation to a future permanent court."

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, established by the Security Council in 1993, is responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. It has authority to prosecute four kinds of offenses, including crimes against humanity, genocide and violations of the laws or customs of war.

The tribunal has indicted more than 90 Croats, Serbs and Bosnians but only a small number have so far been sentenced. There are 36 accused currently in proceedings before the tribunal and Jorda says another 46 are at large. Among them are former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, both believed to be living in Bosnia.

In response to a reporter's question, Jorda rejected the notion that the tribunal has been satisfied to prosecute only the "small fish" accused of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Jorda said the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia seldom involved a classic struggle of two great armies. Instead, he said, those conflicts involved a lot of small pockets of activity and the level of responsibility varied with each theater of conflict. He said the tribunal has been able to begin prosecuting some commanders in these small theaters of conflict. He stressed they are not "small fish."