Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Arbour, Milosevic and 'Yesterday's Men'

Tribunal Update 128: Last Week in The Hague (31 May - 5 June, 1999)
By IWPR

And contrary too, to prevailing Western opinion that the indictment would complicate diplomatic efforts at finding a solution to the Kosovo crisis, precisely one week after he and four senior Yugoslav leaders were indicted, Milosevic accepted the plan brought to Belgrade by the Finnish President Martti Ahtisaary and Russian envoy Victor Chernomyrdin. There were no incentives or deals to be cut: Milosevic capitulated unconditionally.


Between the indictment and the capitulation - Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour spoke in The Hague to a group of journalists from former Yugoslavia. One of the questions touched on the issue of "inappropriate timing" of the charges brought against Milosevic which had been seen by many commentators as complicating efforst toward finding a diplomatic solution.


"First," she said, "I don't think it's appropriate for politicians - before or after the fact - to reflect on whether they think the indictment came at good or bad time; whether it's helpful to the peace process. This is a legal, judicial process. The appropriate course of action is for politicians to take this indictment into account. It was not for me to take their efforts into account in deciding whether to bring an indictment, and at what particular time."


"Those who have very vigorously commented on how inappropriate the timing was, or even the whole decision to bring an indictment, frankly I think they are yesterday's men. I think they just missed this decade where peace has been given a new chance. We are a lot more ambitious about peace then we were ten years ago. And I think they just have not caught up with this new agenda, where nobody is prepared to settle for any peace, a bad peace, a blind peace. That's yesterday's issue. Since the creation of this Tribunal, the Rwanda Tribunal, the Rome statute... there is now a much more ambitious agenda: the one of peace with justice, where no one can hijack the concept of state sovereignty and use it to guarantee his own impunity. These are yesterday's visions of a peaceful world.


"To those who feel that this is putting a chill on the peace process - I think they are dealing with an old notion of peace that has now been rejected by those who are little more ambitious and progressive. To those who speculate how this decision was politically motivated or that I am somebody's puppet, I think that kind of comments reflect worse on them than it does on me. What it seems to suggest is that if they were in my place that is the way they would behave, which is probably why am here and they are not."


"Second, it's also interesting because many of them would not use that kind of language when they refer to their own national courts. If one of their judges or prosecutors brings a case against - or unpopular with - their president or prime minister, or local politicians, most of those would have enough respect for their own institutions, assuming that they have good courts that function the way they should in a democracy and would not spend a lot of time speculating that judge is politically motivated. They would assume their national institutions are functioning the way they should and judicial independence is a cherished value in most functioning democracies.


"But when they turn to an international institution, they are always prepared to assume the worst. Out of, I suspect, a kind of deep distrust of foreigners. We [the tribunal staff] come from 50, 60, different countries, so we don't have these roots of legitimacy. But I think that to a large extent it is a guarantee of our independence, that we are a mix of professionals. Our mandate is extremely explicit. We were not told by the Security Council to investigate and then go and consult with various governments to see if it suits their political agenda for us to move forward.


"I find it revealing that this kind of questions are asked and maybe it is because we are relatively new institution. In that sense I think we have made a huge progress. First of all, the fact that more information is coming to us from very secure sources such as intelligence sources is also a factor of the fact that we now have a very professional reputation, that we are trustworthy, secure and very professional. And we have built up over the years professional relationship of trust with various police and intelligence organizations. So I think over the years you will hear fewer and fewer queries about whether we are political, at least by the only people who matter - which are the informed, intelligent observers of our work."


Arbour also touched on the speculation -encouraged by certain Western governments- that Milosevic's indictment was only made possible by intelligence information handed over to the Office of the Prosecutor a few days before the indictment was made public. Arbour had this to say:


"This is all based on some kind of conspiracy theory, as though somebody was controlling the whole process. It doesn't work that way. You have seen the indictment, you saw quite a detailed set of allegations. What you don't see, and you will not see until the accused are in custody, is the supporting material, witness statements, documents, what we present to the court to support the indictment. It's quite voluminous. Essentially, it's an on-going process."


"We divided the investigation, basically, into two parts. One was to document what the refugees had to say. We have not been given access to Kosovo since last fall. Even when we were there, we had very modest presence. So, all of a sudden, a flow of information was coming out, and there was a danger that we would deploy all our resources just to talking to refugees, and we would find out six months later that we had a lot of evidence about what happened on the ground, but we would not have developed the chain of command part of the case. So we made sure that we worked at the two hand in hand.


"We had people taking statements from refugees and also working with other organizations to manage that huge amount of information. The other half, that was less visible, was trying to develop information from governments' intelligence sources and all other sources to make sure that we had what it takes to link commanders to what happened on the ground. We met virtually every day to review what we have against what targets, how the case was developing, what we needed to do next. It's a very long process, that goes through various drafts, reviewed internally. We would identify areas where we felt we needed more evidence. It was very much work in progress."


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