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Interview: What's Daily Life Like For ICTY Detainees?

The United Nations Detention Unit in the leafy suburb of Scheveningen outside The Hague is no ordinary prison. The average age of the people inside is well above 60. They also tend to be better educated and have fewer previous criminal convictions than average prisoners.

Since 1995, this place has housed 141 individuals accused of war crimes during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. It was here the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic passed away, and it is from its cells that other key figures from the wars such as Bosnian Serb suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are preparing their defenses in front of the tribunal.

RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak talked to the commanding officer for the detention unit, Fraser Gilmour, on what daily life looks like for the unit's current 26 detainees.

RFE/RL: What does a normal day look like for someone detained at The Hague detention center?

Fraser Gilmour:
They are unlocked at 7 o'clock in the morning. They have free access to the wing that they're resident on throughout the day, and then when it comes to early evening, about half past eight, they are locked up again for the evening. Throughout that time, during the hours of unlock, they have access to the common areas on their residential wing, where there is the opportunity for them to mix with one another in a recreation room. There is the opportunity for them to cook for themselves should they wish. They are supplied with three meals a day, but they have the opportunity to add to that by cooking for themselves if they purchase additional foodstuffs.

They also have a program of events throughout the day where they would have the opportunity for fresh air, the opportunity for sports. There are also classes, etc., in which they can enroll and participate. Generally, a lot of them would tend to spend a lot of time preparing for their cases.

RFE/RL: Can the detainees purchase traditional Balkan food?

They can purchase regular foodstuffs that are available through the host prison shop, so that includes fruit and vegetables, tinned produce, drinks, and that kind of thing. But, in addition, we have put in place resources so that they can purchase from a Balkan supplier, so a supplier in the Netherlands that would facilitate them to purchase specialties from the region. And we also have made arrangements that they can purchase fresh meat should they wish and occasionally fresh fish, so they can have quite a range of produce they can purchase and subsequently cook if they wish.

RFE/RL: How much is their daily allowance?

It is a small amount of money that they are provided to cover issues like communication with their families, [for instance through] the purchase of telephone cards so that they contact their families and maintain those family links. [These links] are very important for someone in a detention environment and particularly for our detainees, considering the distance they are from their friends and families.

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[It's important] in the detention environment [for detainees to have] contact with those close links and those support networks which will provide them support through the time in detention and hopefully, if they are convicted or if they are acquitted, then also provide that support so they can return to normal life thereafter with limited damage to those support networks.

RFE/RL: How often can relatives and friends come to visit?

We are quite generous with our visiting facilities. You would tend to find in a national jurisdiction that it would not be uncommon for a detainee or even a convict for that matter to be permitted a maximum hour of visiting per week. We permit up to seven consecutive days of visiting in each 30-day period. This is bearing in mind the things I was mentioning in relation to communications and also the distance their families have to travel in order to visit their loved ones.

RFE/RL: Do the detainees have access to TV, including Balkan channels, and can they use the Internet?

We do provide television in their cells. We also have satellite television from the former Yugoslavia, from all of the different countries of the former Yugoslavia. There is no Internet access. We do provide detainees with desktop computers, but that is principally in relation to the fact that this is an e-court and much of the documentation that comes with the case is provided in digital format, so it is really a tool to assist them in their defense rather than an opportunity for social networking or social benefits.

RFE/RL: The ICTY is slowly winding [down]. For how long are you planning to host detainees in the detention unit?

We are actually at a bit of a stage in change within the history of the ICTY. We are presently at the start of the MICT, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and the MICT will take over the work of the ICTY as it progresses and also the work of the ICTR, the Rwandan tribunal, in order to continue the process of the work which has been started by the ICTY. So the MICT will be responsible for the enforcement of all sentences, so at present we already have a couple of convicts within the unit -- four -- who are MICT detainees as [MICT] are responsible for the enforcement.

We are ostensibly just a remand institution, which means we only hold those during the pretrial, trial, and appeal phases, and therefore as the tribunal comes to a close all our convicts will go and serve their sentences in tertiary states. So the tribunal has agreements with a number of different countries at present within Europe -- all of them are within Europe at the moment -- to enforce any sentences and those agreements have also been ratified by the MICT.