Top officials from the United Nations tribunals set up to try those responsible for atrocities committed during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the 1994 Rwandan genocide today stressed that cooperation from States, especially in arresting fugitives and accessing evidence, will enable the courts to meet the deadline set for completing their work.
Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), told an open meeting of the Security Council that the major development in the last six months was the arrest of two of the four fugitives – Radovan Karadžic and Stojan Zjuplanin.
“Today the arrest of the two remaining fugitives is the highest priority of the Office,” he said, referring to Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadžicrs.
He said that, in order to succeed in completing the trial and appeals programme, there would be heavy reliance on cooperation from the States of the former Yugoslavia and the support of the international community. Cooperation remained critical in the areas of access to archives, access to and protection of witnesses, and the arrest and transfer of the remaining fugitives.
Speaking to reporters later, he noted that there are currently seven ongoing trials in relation to 27 accused. Five trials still have to start next year, which means that the completion strategy deadlines will not be met and the Tribunal will have trial activities ongoing in 2009 and 2010.
Patrick Robinson, President of the ICTY, which is based in The Hague, told the Council that the international community should focus its efforts on securing the immediate arrest of the remaining fugitives as a matter of urgency.
He added that there was cause for deep concern that, as its work drew towards its final stages, the Tribunal should remain sufficiently resourced to discharge its mandate. He appealed to the Council and the international community to give the Tribunal the support it needs to enable it to discharge its “historic role.”
In response to this request, the Security Council today authorized the Secretary-General to appoint, as a temporary measure and within existing resources, additional ad litem, or temporary, judges to the Tribunal, in order to complete existing trials or conduct additional ones.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is aiming to finish first-instance trials by the end of 2009, is also working to address staffing needs and further develop tools for expediting proceedings, while fully respecting the right of the accused to a fair trial, said its President.
“We want to achieve our goals, and the workload ahead makes it clear that ‘business as usual’ is not an option,” Dennis Byron told the Council.
The Prosecutor of the ICTR, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, added that the cases of all detainees were being prepared to ensure that their trials proceeded in 2009, in accordance with the trial schedule.
The next six months would be a period of intense trial activity, Hassan B. Jallow said. “We are all committed to concluding the trials of the detainees currently at hand and to making referral a success to enable us deal with the cases of some detainees, as well as the fugitives.”
Out of the close to 100 indictments that have been issued, the ICTR has finished the cases of 37 accused. It is still looking for 13 fugitives who are at large, and has 10 indictees currently in detention awaiting trial. The Tribunal plans to start those trials in January 2009 and finish them by September.
A challenge for the court has been the transfer of cases to national jurisdictions, the Prosecutor noted. “We haven’t had many takers for our cases,” he said, adding that Rwanda has been the court’s main focus for the transferral of cases.
“But there also we’ve had some setback in that the judges so far have declined to refer any case to Rwanda because of fears that the defence may not be able to operate effectively given the possible reluctance of defence witnesses to travel to Rwanda to testify. And also out of concerns for the possible safety of defence witnesses in Rwanda.”
As a result, no transfers have taken place so far to Rwanda, but the Office of the Prosecutor and the Rwandan authorities have agreed to work together to make sure that “we can help them put in place the measures which would satisfy the judges, which would overcome some of these constraints.”
He stressed the importance of making progress in this area because it will ease the workload on the Tribunal and enable it to finish the trial phase of its work by the end of next year.
Mr. Brammertz voiced similar expectations regarding the work of his institution. “We strongly believe that the ultimate success of the ICTY as a tribunal will depend on our ability to transfer remaining case files to the region, and [are] hoping that the region will have the political support and also the logistical and operational support to conduct their own investigations.”