Trial of Balkan war criminals still ‘unfinished business’

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The rationale for the existence of a tribunal to redress the evils committed in South-Eastern Europe during the nineties is not yet exhausted, claimed Serge Brammertz, chief UN prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), on 26 January 2010.

Speaking to the European Parliament services, Brammertz underlined the close link between cooperation with the ICTY and the EU membership prospects of Balkan outsiders.

Before joining the European club, applicant members need to show that they have a good record in chasing down Balkan war criminals from the nineties.

The high-level Belgian prosecutor, who replaced the Swiss Carla Del Ponte on 1 January 2008, praised the work of the ICTY. "I think it is clear that by having indicted 161 persons the tribune has played a major role in addressing the crimes committed in the region."

According to Brammertz, the tribunal, established on 25 May 1993 by a UN Security Council resolution, has come a long way. "In its initial phase [it] had a number of organisational [and] logistical problems to deal with. But at the end of the day if we look at the number of cases prosecuted, it has been quite successful."

Of the 161 people indicted, conclusions have been reached on 121 of them, he said. Amongst the most noticeable trials carried out by the tribunals are the cases of former President of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadži?, captured on 21 July 2008, former Serbian President Slobodan Miloševi?, captured on 31 March 2001, and Croatian General Ante Gotovina, captured on 7 December 2005.

Brammertz commended the latest efforts by governments in the Western Balkans. In Serbia, he said, prosecution requests for access to documents and archives were being dealt with "more expeditiously and effectively".

Additionally he applauded Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor's decision to establish in October 2009 an Inter-Agency Task Force to locate the missing documents related to 1995's Operation Storm (EURACTIV 11/12/09).

Yet two high-profile Serb war criminals remain at large: Ratko Mladic, chief of staff of the army of the Republika Srpska during the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, and Goran Hadzic, Serb militant and president of the breakaway Republic of Serbian Krajina from 1992 to 1994.

Phasing out

The capture of such war criminals remains of paramount importance both for the ICTY and Serbia's EU hopes. The tribunal is heading towards its final stage: it should close down in 2-3 years and has downsized its staff by 60%.

The prosecutor nonetheless emphasized that even if the tribunal had to close before the fugitives have been found, judicial mechanisms would still exist to prosecute them "In the worst case scenario, the UN Security Council is working on the so-called residual mechanism – a kind of institution to be created after the closure of the tribunal, which will deal with remaining requests of assistance for witness protection."

"This mechanism will also have a tribunal component – a kind of a 'sleeping tribunal' to be activated if one of the fugitives is arrested at a later stage," the prosecutor concluded.

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