The transfer of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to a United Nations tribunal has been welcomed at UN headquarters as a reaffirmation of the principle that war crimes will not be treated with impunity. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as representatives of the Security Council -- which created the war crimes tribunal in 1993 -- expressed the hope that the historic handover of Milosevic will lead to a calming of tensions in the Balkans and a new chapter for Yugoslavia.
United Nations, 29 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Serbia's decision to transfer former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the United Nations tribunal at The Hague was cheered at UN headquarters as a triumph of international law.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the move, saying he hoped it would bring comfort to the victims of the Balkan wars and inspire a new spirit of coexistence throughout the former Yugoslavia.
"I think what has happened today, which few thought possible -- here we see one of the most powerful men in the Balkans today in the hands of the court at The Hague -- should go to show all leaders who are bound to abuse their power that in today's world, the peoples of the international community will demand accountability and will ensure that impunity is not allowed to stand."
The current president of the UN Security Council, Anwarul Chowdhury, said the handover of Milosevic reaffirmed the will of the international community to prosecute those accused of crimes against humanity.
Chowdhury expressed the hope that the move will help advance efforts to carry out the Security Council resolution providing "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo. Kosovo is currently run as a virtual protectorate by the United Nations, but there have been growing links between the UN Mission in Kosovo -- UNMIK -- and the government of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.
"This will improve the situation in Yugoslavia, in the region and, I believe, for the international community as a whole. Because this is something -- crimes against humanity cannot be condoned by any country in any case, and we believe that this is a reaffirmation of the determination of the international community to try those who have committed such crimes."
The Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993, and it has so far convicted 19 of those indicted and ordered two acquittals. Milosevic was the most senior former official under indictment by the tribunal, but a number of other prominent indictees remain at large, including former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. UN officials say their continuing influence has obstructed efforts at reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In total, 37 indictees remain at large.
Britain's ambassador to the Security Council, Jeremy Greenstock, said he hoped the Milosevic trial would show that accusations of crimes against humanity will not be taken lightly by the international community. Greenstock called the Serbian move "remarkable" and "courageous," given the current complicated political situation in Belgrade.
"This is a huge day for global accountability under the United Nations."
Annan said the handover of Milosevic to The Hague tribunal was necessary even though it did not have the consent of Kostunica. He said Milosevic and his lawyers will have full opportunity to present their case.
"The court will do what it has to do, and I think that justice will take its course. And I think that is what is important, not what got him into The Hague. So let justice take its course."
Kostunica said yesterday that the move was illegal and unconstitutional, and could destabilize the country.