Despite procedural delays, UN war tribunals still making progress, officials tell Security Council

12 June 2013

The United Nations war crimes tribunals set up in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s are despite various delays, close to completing their work, their officials told the Security Council today, stressing that they will need support of the international community to address remaining challenges.

The President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Theodor Meron told an open meeting of the Council that “while the Tribunal has made tremendous progress in many respects, there have been some delays in certain proceedings.”

The ICTY, which marked the 20th anniversary of its work just weeks ago, is tasked by the Council with trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Since its inception, the court has indicted 161 persons.

Only four trials concerning core statutory crimes remain to be completed. Three will be completed according to the schedule and one case which was originally meant to be completed at the end of December 2014 is now anticipated to be completed by July 2015.

Some appellate cases have also been delayed, Mr. Meron said, reminding the Council of the breadth and complexity of the crimes, as well as the logistical challenges that the Tribunal faces, including the distance between the facilities in The Hague, and the location of witnesses.

“All efforts are being made on the part of the Tribunal to complete its pending judicial work as quickly as possible while fully respecting the fundamental rights of its accused and appellants to due process in accordance with international standards,” Mr. Meron said, adding that while the delays were regrettable, many of the factors leading tot hem “are not uncommon to criminal proceedings the world over.”

In his capacity as President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, Mr. Meron said “all arrangements are in place to ensure a seamless transfer of functions from the ICTY to the Hague branch of the Mechanism on 1 July.

The Council set up the Mechanism in December 2010 to take over and finish the remaining tasks of both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) once their respective mandates expire. The Council has urged the tribunals to conclude their work by the end of 2014.

The ICTR branch of the Mechanism began its functions on 1 July 2012, while the branch for the ICTY will start on 1 July 2013.

The Mechanism will assume responsibility for a variety of functions previously carried out by the ICTY, including the enforcement of sentences, the provision of assistance to national jurisdiction, and the protection of victims and witnesses in completed trials, among other tasks.

As for the ICTR, Mr. Meron said that work on the Mechanism’s permanent premises in Arusha, Tanzania is on track and funding is in place.

However, he expressed concern regarding the situation in Mali, where 17 persons convicted by the ICTR are serving sentences, and said the Mechanism – which is now responsible for the individuals – is taking steps to review enforcement practices and looking to increase its capacity to enforce sentences in Africa and establish enforcement agreements with new countries.

The ICTR was set up after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during a span of three months beginning in April 1994.

Mr. Meron noted that the Mechanism is also responsible for the trial of three of the nine individuals indicted by the ICTR, and underlined that Member States play “an invaluable role in ensuring that fugitives are apprehended.”

ICTR President Vagn Joensen told the Council the Tribunal has completed all trial work and successfully met all timelines projected in December for appeals. He added that the transition to the Arusha branch of the Mechanism is going smoothly.

In spite of this progress, he expressed concern over the issue of relocating acquitted persons and those released after completion of their sentence in Tanzania. There are now seven acquitted persons and three who have been released after completion of their sentences who remain in safe houses in Arusha under the Tribunal’s protection, but they do not have proper immigration status and are unable to move about freely.

“The ICTR is deeply concerned about the consequences of failing to uphold the fundamental right of freedom to live one’s life after being acquitted, and the importance of finding host countries for these persons before the Tribunal closes cannot be stressed enough,” Mr. Joensen said. “We call upon all Member States […] to assist with this persistent problem.”

The Council also heard from the Prosecutors Serge Brammertz and Hassan B. Jallow, of the ICTY and ICTR, respectively.

Mr. Jallow stressed that the ICTR’s work will only be completed when all fugitives have been arrested and brought to justice, and said the Mechanism is committed to supplement Rwandan efforts to track the six fugitives whose cases have been referred to the country’s judicial system. He also called on the Council to request all Member States to support the Mechanism and the Rwandan Government to this end.

For his part, Mr. Brammertz emphasized the importance of having all parties commit to making national war crimes strategies successful. He stated that the two regional co-operation protocols for war crimes prosecutions – one between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – were a sign of progress, but stressed that States must “turn their words into concrete action.”

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