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'Arkan' Case: 'Inappropriate Disclosure'

Tribunal Update 121: Last Week in The Hague (12-17 April, 1999)

In his "Decision to vacate in part an order for non-disclosure", which Judge Richard May signed on 31 March 1996, inter alia, he said that: "In the interests of justice to protect confidential information obtained by the Prosecutor for the protection of witnesses a copy of the indictment should not be transmitted to the authorities of the FRY until such time as they execute the warrant [of arrest] and the accused is taken into custody."

All one can learn from the now published Warrant of Arrest and Order for Surrender is that the named Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan by the indictment confirmed by Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen on 30 September 1997 - is charged with "committing serious violations of international humanitarian law in particular under Articles 2,3 and 5 of the Tribunal's Statute."

The above-mentioned articles relate to grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws of customs of war, and crimes against humanity. This is how it should have stayed until the moment of his arrest. It did not, however.

Last week saw disclosure of further details of one of the counts of the Tribunal's sealed indictment of Arkan in less than appropriate circumstances. At the daily press briefing at the UK's Ministry of Defence, Minister George Robertson publicly announced that Arkan was inter alia charged with taking part in the well-known massacre of more than 200 people who were taken from the Vukovar Hospital and shot at the near-by farm of Ovcara on 21 November 1991.

Since the Tribunal did not deny this, Robertson's statement is probably not just another missive of war propaganda, even if the motive for the disclosure was undoubtedly propagandist.

Three officers of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) have also been indicted for the same crime, and the Tribunal has been seeking their extradition unsuccessfully for the past three years. Another person, former Mayor of Vukovar, Slavko Dokmanovic, was tried for the crime, but committed suicide while in detention shortly before the sentence was announced.

A number of witnesses of the Vukovar massacre have already appeared in The Hague for that trial, some of whom were part of the witness protection scheme.

This is yet another reason why, "in the interests of the protection of witnesses," the Tribunal has important reasons to "protect confidential sources until the accused is taken into custody," as stated in the above-mentioned Judge May's decision.

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