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

Arbour's 'reminder' to Milosevic

By Mirko Klarin

Alarmed by an increasing number of credible reports on the campaign of terror waged by Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces in Kosovo, Tribunal Chief Prosecutor, Louise Arbour, last week took the unusual step of writing directly to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other senior officials, to remind them of their obligations under international law.

"It is my intention" - the Prosecutor writes - "to investigate all serious violations of international humanitarian law that merit prosecution in the international forum, particularly those involving attacks on the civilian population. Meanwhile I believe that everything must be done to deter the commission of future crimes. I therefore look to you to exercise your authority over your subordinates; to exercise your leadership in order to prevent the commission of future crimes; and to take all necessary steps to punish any of your subordinates who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo."

Attached to the letter sent to Milosevic and to his "senior officials", were copies of the salient portions of the Tribunal's statute which deals with crimes under its jurisdiction (Articles 2-5: Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions; Violations of the Laws or Customs of War; Genocide and Crimes against Humanity).

She further recommended they pay specific attention to Article 7 of the Statute which deals with Individual Criminal Responsibility of those who "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparations or executions of a crime."

Paragraph 2 of Article 7 is particularly important, since it stipulates that "the official position of any accused person, whether as head of state Or government (..). Shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility or mitigate punishment" (emphasis added by Tribunal Update).

Paragraph 3 dwells on the so called command responsibility: "The fact that any of the acts (...) was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof."

Reports on the Kosovo campaign of terror - involving extra-judiciary executions of prominent Albanian intellectuals, mass executions of men separated from their families, torching and tearing down of villages, and expulsion of tens of thousands of persons - have alarmed not only the Prosecutor, but also the UNHCR, EU, NATO, and many Western governments. Last Friday, the EU Presidency denounced atrocities committed by Serbian police and paramilitary forces. NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, stated on Saturday that reports from a variety of sources indicated that "dark things are happening in Kosovo", and that Allied governments were undertaking to pass all pertaining evidence to the Tribunal as it becomes available. America has stated that any material collected during the present Kosovo crisis by electronic means will be passed onto to the Tribunal.

Meantime, British Defence Minister George Robertson speaking on the Kosovo situation described Milosevic of "using a sort of savagery that hasn't been seen in Europe since the Middle Ages", and denounced him as "a serial ethnic cleanser." The British, Robertson said, are "receiving a large quantity of information from a multitude of sources," "carefully collecting evidence," and "identifying units and individuals involved in crimes." It was the Blair administration's intention, Robertson announced, not only to hand over the evidence of the Tribunal but also to commit British forces "to play the same role in the apprehension of war criminals in Kosovo as in Bosnia." It would appear that The Hague circle is gradually closing in upon President Milosevic.

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