UN war crimes tribunals appeal to General Assembly for resources, staffing support

8 October 2010

The United Nations tribunals trying those alleged to have committed atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are making good progress in completing their work, but their efforts are being hampered by a lack of resources and the departure of some of their most experienced staff, the heads of the two bodies said today.

“In all our efforts, we are facing one main stumbling block: the staffing situation,” Judge Dennis Byron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), told the General Assembly, as he presented the annual report of the court.

“We continue to lose many of our best and most experienced staff members, often to other institutions in the same field where they can obtain longer-term contracts,” he said, noting that 167 staff members left the Tribunal between July 2009 and June 2010.

Judge Byron stressed that the Tribunal’s staff is an indispensable element of completing the work of the Tribunal, which was created in November 1994 to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda that year. Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, mostly by machete, in just 100 days.

Despite major obstacles, including staffing, the Tribunal – based in the Tanzanian city of Arusha – has made “significant progress” in the completion of its mandate, Judge Byron reported, adding that judgement delivery in all of the ongoing or commencing cases at trial level is expected before the end of 2011.

“I am convinced that what we have achieved so far gives you the confidence and trust to provide us with the necessary resources to complete our mandate expeditiously during this and the next biennium.”

The departure of highly experienced staff for more secure employment elsewhere has also impacted the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), its President, Judge Patrick Robinson, told the 192-member body.

“Experienced staff continue to leave the Tribunal at an alarming rate,” he reported, adding that while the court has increased its trial capacity from six trials simultaneously to conducting ten trials, it has not seen a comparative increase in its resources.

Judge Robinson also noted that, in the past, the UN has wound up administrative bodies such as peacekeeping operations, and has therefore developed a practice and a culture with regard to the exit strategy for such bodies.

“But the Tribunal is not an administrative body,” he pointed out. “It is a court of law, and as such it will always be prone to a certain degree of unforeseeability, which is a natural element in most kinds of judicial work, and particularly in trials as complicated as those at the Tribunal.

“The Tribunal cannot be wound up as though it were a bakery producing bread. It can only be wound up properly with appropriate sensitivity to the judicial character of its work.”

In spite of the difficulties, Judge Robinson highlighted some of the achievements of the Tribunal, which is based in The Hague and set up to try those responsible for the atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and called on Member States to assist efforts to bring its work to a close expeditiously and fairly.

“It was not so long ago that international criminal justice was but a dream in the minds of those striving for a safer and more just world. But now the dream has been realized,” he noted.

“The Tribunal has demonstrated to the international community that international humanitarian law is an enforceable body of law; that it binds the conduct of the most senior State officials; and that the rule of law is a living, breathing reality that forms part of the fabric of our civilization.”

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UN picks new judge for World Court, extends terms of judges for war crimes tribunals

The Security Council and the General Assembly today elected Xue Hanqin to fill a vacancy in the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ), while the Council separately extended the terms of judges of the UN war crimes tribunals for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.