32nd Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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18-Oct-2017 01:51:53
Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia to close by year’s end, residual mechanism will assume remaining workload, its president tells General Assembly at 32nd plenary.

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Serbia’s Representative Refutes Claims Its Failure to Cooperate with Arrest Warrants Thwarting Progress on Two Remaining Cases

After 24 years of ground‑breaking work in the fight against impunity, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia would close its doors by end of year, having “blazed a trail of remarkable firsts”, the General Assembly heard today.

“In my view, the principle achievement of the Tribunal, and its most important legacy, is its ground‑breaking role in the fight against impunity,” said Tribunal President Carmel Agius.

Established in 1993 to deal with war crimes committed during the Balkans war, the Tribunal had issued more indictments than any other international criminal court and had successfully brought to justice 161 individuals for serious violations of international humanitarian law, he said. It was also the first international criminal tribunal since the post‑Second World War, Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals and the first to indict a sitting Head of State.

“On front after front, the [Tribunal] has developed not only jurisprudence but also tools, procedures, and programmes to address specialized areas of international criminal law and practice, such as witness protection, state cooperation, and judicial efficiency,” he said.

Mr. Agius detailed progress made toward completing the Tribunal’s mandate and the transition of duties to the International Residual Mechanism of Criminal Tribunals. He said that judgments of the two remaining substantive cases were scheduled for 22 November for the Mladić trial case, and 29 November for the Prlić et al appeal case. There had been no progress in the cases against Petar Jojić and Vjerica Radeta, he said, adding that the accused were still at large in Serbia, due to Serbia’s lack of cooperation with the Tribunal.

He also underscored the importance of ensuring a seamless transfer of responsibilities to the Mechanism, while at the same time “taking pains” to ensure that the Tribunal’s efficient closure remained an example of other downsizing institutions to follow. By 1 January 2018, the Mechanism would have assumed full responsibility for all residual functions of the Tribunal, as well as its extensive archives.

Also briefing the General Assembly, Theodor Meron, President of the Residual Mechanism, said if the Mechanism failed to fulfil those responsibilities, it would be a failure not only for the legacies of both the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals but also for international justice itself.

“What victims and witnesses will come forward in the future to give evidence as to what they have seen in Syria, in Iraq, or in countless other conflicts” if it became apparent protections were not available, he asked, adding that States would no longer cooperate with investigations by providing sensitive information if the safeguarding of confidential materials could not be guaranteed.

He said the efficient completion of the Mechanism’s mandate would not be possible without such continued support, noting that due to limited resources all the entity’s work must be undertaken with the greatest efficiency and urgency and in the most cost‑effective manner possible. “We owe nothing less to this Organization and to the public interest of the international community at large,” he concluded.

The representative of Serbia, responding to claims that his country was not cooperating regarding arrest warrants, said it had handed over 45 defendants to the Tribunal out of the total of 46 requested. One defendant had committed suicide before he could be handed over. “This is a clear sign that Serbia’s cooperation with the [Tribunal] has been comprehensive and uncompromising,” he said. The Jojić case was a case of contempt of court and Serbian courts did not provide extradition for alleged crimes other than serious war crimes. “Please read the statute,” he said. “It is simply wrong to require the Serbian Government to cure this mistake.” While the Tribunal had completed its work, it hardly accomplished its mission, he said, adding that: “However, irrespective of the bitter taste it may leave, it will not influence my country’s commitment to non‑selective prosecution of war crimes.”

The representative of Rwanda voiced concern that nine fugitives from the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda remained at large, commending the Mechanism’s efforts to track them. Noting that the Rwanda Tribunal had been established partly to contribute to Rwanda’s national reconciliation process and its restoration and maintenance of peace, she said those objectives had not been achieved, as most of the master planners of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi were still at large. The technocrats running the Rwanda Tribunal had denied Rwandans the right to host convicted perpetrators, instead sending them to distant countries. “This has frustrated survivors who feel that the [Tribunal] does not value them,” she said.

In the ensuing discussion, several Member States commended the Tribunal for its successful prosecution of all 161 indicted persons, with the representative of Mexico saying that experience could serve as a model for future tribunals.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that the results of Tribunal’s work had yet to be analysed objectively. Given the challenges that had accumulated in the Tribunal’s work, he said that serious flaws in its functioning would continue to impact its responsibilities.

Several speakers urged Serbia to cooperate with international mechanisms, with the representative of the United States expressing concern about the divisive nature of statements by some individuals in the region, as well as attempts to deny or revise the true record of crimes established by the Tribunal. He said the historical record should be depoliticized, voicing concern about Serbia’s failure to execute arrest warrants for the two surviving individuals charged with contempt of court in relation to witness intimidation in the case of Vojislav Šešelj.

The representative of the European Union said that despite progress, revisionism threatened the entire region. Such trends must be fought, he stressed. He also urged Serbia, as a country negotiating its accession to the European Union, to execute arrest warrants, immediately cooperate with the Tribunal, and implement its decisions and judgments.

The Assembly took note of the twenty‑fourth and final annual report of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 and also the fifth annual report of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

Also speaking today were the representatives of New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Slovenia, Chile, Guatemala, and Turkey.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 20 October, to consider new partnerships for Africa’s development, reports of the Secretary‑General and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa.
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