Sunday, September 23, 2007


NEW YORK,USA (September 23,2007) - The new leadership of the United Nations is facing a defiant challenge from within one of its few recent successes - the war crimes tribunal in The Hague - over who will steer the epic trials towards their close.

Prosecution lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) - trying Europe's bloodiest war criminals since the Nazis - fear a backstage deal has been struck between new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon over an appointment of a successor to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who leaves in December. Senior Hague lawyers say they are ready to quit over the issue.

Accounts by tribunal and UN sources of how a former Belgian attorney-general petitioned for the job and has reportedly been guaranteed it affords a rare insight into the veiled sanctums of the UN.

Sources at the ICTY, at UN headquarters in New York and across the world of international law and human rights advocacy, say Del Ponte's succession has been pledged in secret to Serge Brammertz, a Belgian criminologist who became deputy prosecutor at the new International Criminal Court and heads the UN commission into the murder of Lebanese premier Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, which he wants to leave.

The entire senior prosecution staff at the tribunal have taken the unprecedented step of sending a joint letter to Ki-Moon, contesting a Brammertz appointment by proposing Del Ponte's current deputy David Tolbert, who has worked for nine years at the tribunal, for the job.

"The matter is not one of personalities nor Brammertz's standing", says one lawyer. "It's the difference between someone who knows the history, understands every case and can deliver a completion strategy, or someone brought in by the Secretary General just to shut the tribunal down, with no experience of the cases, background or region."

Ki-Moon's office will not comment, citing confidentiality of the appointments procedure. But the lawyers' view is backed unanimously by organisations with an interest in the tribunal's work, including the George Soros Foundation, Human Rights Watch and campaigners within former Yugoslavia itself, all of whom have also petitioned Ki-Moon.

"Just because people haven't heard of the names remaining to stand trial doesn't mean that they are not the most important cases," says Kelly Askin, senior legal officer at the Soros Foundation.

"It's crucial that there be continuity - and the fact is we have someone available who knows the institution and the people, and has followed every case and every detail for nine years. Several senior staff have told me they will leave the tribunal if David Tolbert is not appointed."

The ICTY has had a bumpy journey since it was established under pressure from then President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in 1994. It was seen at the time as an act of contrition after the UN's catastrophic failure to intervene as hundreds of thousands died in three years of savage Serbian,Montenegrin and Croatian aggressions against Bosnia, culminating with the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at the UN-protected 'Safe Area' of Srebrenica in July 1995.

The tribunal lost its biggest catch with the death in prison of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and is haunted by the failure to catch the two former leaders of the serbians living in bosnia accused of unleashing the genocide in Bosnia - Serbian war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Their capture would extend the tribunal's mandate beyond 2010.

But crucial trials are outstanding or still in process - former leadership of the Croatians living in Bosnia is currently standing trial for crimes committed during the Croatian aggression against Bosnia; notorious Serbian war criminal Milan Lukic awaits trial, accused of locking scores of Bosnian civilians in houses and burning them alive in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad during the 1992-1995 Serbian aggression against Bosnia.

Above all, Serbian war criminal Momcilo Peresic - Milosevic's most senior general - is also due for trial. It is a critical case, because a conviction would establish Serbia's direct involvement in the genocide in Bosnia, in stark counterpoint to a ruling by the International Court of Justice, which rejected a case by Bosnia against Serbia for its direct involvement in genocide in Bosnia.The court ruled, however, that Serbia did nothing to prevent genocide and punish the culprits.

As the first country standing trial for genocide before the International Court of Justice, Serbia was found guilty of two violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on February 26 of this year. On the count of prevention: Serbia has violated the obligation to prevent genocide to occur in Bosnia; on the count of punishment: by harbouring on its territory Serbian war criminals Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Zdravko Tolimir in connection with the genocide in Bosnia.

An ICTY statement last week said del Ponte's mandate had been extended until 31 December. 'The successor to the current prosecutor has not yet been appointed yet,' it said.

No comments: