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UN war crimes prosecutor urges Security Council to keep pressure on Balkan fugitives

UN war crimes prosecutor urges Security Council to keep pressure on Balkan fugitives

Carla Del Ponte
The Security Council must send a message to Radovan Karadžic and Ratko Mladic, the most notorious fugitives remaining from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, that, regardless of when they are arrested, they will face trial at the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor said today.

Carla Del Ponte told the Council, which was holding a meeting on the progress of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), that it should consider keeping the ICTY open beyond its current completion timeline until whenever Mr. Karadžiæ and Mr. Mladiæ can be tried.

“This is very important for the tens of thousands of victims who have placed their hope in the justice provided by the United Nations,” Ms. Del Ponte said, noting the promises made by the Council when it established the Tribunal in 1993.

“As we are all aware, many victims have the perception that the United Nations abandoned the so-called safe areas to the troops of Karadžiæ and Mladiæ. Let us not, by our actions, give them further reason to feel that the United Nations – and the Security Council – did not do everything in their power to ensure that the most responsible accused are brought to justice.”

The completion strategy for the two UN tribunals calls for them to complete all trials at the first instance by 2008, and to wind up all their work, including appeals, by the end of 2010.

Ms. Del Ponte criticized the Serbian Government and the authorities in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina for not showing “a robust willingness” to arrest Mr. Mladiæ or Mr. Karadžiæ respectively, even though her office had frequently supplied accurate and detailed information on the fugitives’ whereabouts.

This is “a demonstration of utmost disrespect towards thousands of mainly Muslim, but also Croat and other non-Serb victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Serbia’s Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Zoran Loncar, told the Council that his country was doing all it could to cooperate with the Tribunal, citing the transfer of 16 indictees to The Hague, where the ICTY is based, since January 2005 as an example of its efforts.

Milos M. Prica, the representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressed that his country’s authorities were also striving hard to locate and arrest any indicted war criminals, and were willing to redouble their efforts in the months ahead.

In his address, Judge Fausto Pocar, President of the ICTY, said the Tribunal had just undergone one of the most productive periods in its history following changes to court chambers and more efficient pre-trial management. All trials of accused in custody are now slated to be finished by 2009. All appeals should be concluded within two years of that date.

ICTR Chief Prosecutor Hassan Jallow said that tribunal, which is based in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, was making steady progress towards its completion strategy, adding that the trials of 25 accused persons are currently in progress.

But he said their efforts were being hampered by the inability to transfer some cases to national jurisdictions for trial. In one example, Tribunal judges rejected a prosecutorial request to hold a trial in Norway, saying it lacked jurisdiction to hear the offences in that case.

More worryingly, all African countries except Rwanda have told the ICTR that they cannot take on any cases because they do not have the resources or capacity to cope. While Rwanda is willing to take cases, it has not yet fulfilled the conditions for the transfer of indictees.

Mr. Jallow also said many fugitives remained at large in the region, taking advantage of changes of identity and the inaccessibility of much of the region, especially within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to evade arrest.

Rwanda’s representative Joseph Nsengimana said it was time to transfer some cases to his country so that Rwandans could be “first-hand witnesses to justice being done.” To that end, Rwandan authorities were seeking to remove obstacles, such as the presence of the death penalty on the country’s statute books and the standard of detention facilities.