Briefly Noted ...

By Chris Steven in The Hague (TU 305, 17-21 March 2003)

Briefly Noted ...

By Chris Steven in The Hague (TU 305, 17-21 March 2003)

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

The saga over the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, on the run since 1997, continued this week with Montenegro’s president, Milo Djukanovic, denying suggestions by Hague chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte that the fugitive was being hidden in his republic - and may even be popping in and out of a monastery.


Journalists gathered at TV screens in The Hague this week building to watch the second court appearance of Vojislav Seselj, one of the most colourful war crimes suspects, who pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The head of the Serbian Radical Party had first insisted he did not understand the 14 war crimes against him, because they were not read out in “pure Serbian”.

Tribunal translators use something called BCS, an amalgamation of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, but Seselji insisted that this was similar to hearing London cockney slang and demanded only Serbian words be used.

But Judge Wolfgang Schomburg told Seselj that he was sure the defendant understood the charges because the dialects were similar.

“The Croatian variant is artificial,” insisted Seselj.

As with Slobodan Milosevic, Seselji is conducting his own defence, telling the hearing that he was the best lawyer he knew.

He refused the use of a computer or typewriter, saying he feared they might be wired to electrocute him.

And he launched a verbal attack on chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, saying, “If I start insulting her she’ll have a hard time of it because I am more talented and more successful at it.”


United States officials called for war crimes cases to be considered against Iraq this week, accusing Baghdad of mistreating prisoners of war by parading them on TV.

Although the prisoners do not appear to have been tortured, putting them on public display might be deemed a violation of the Geneva Conventions.


Croatia’s former army commander, Janko Bobetko, this week learned that The Hague has cancelled an arrest warrant issued last September.

Instead, the tribunal has instructed Croatia to deliver a copy of his indictment for war crimes, and to monitor his health on a monthly basis.

The move comes after doctors sent reports on the health of the ailing general, who supporters say is too sick to make a journey to The Hague.


Speculation is growing that The Hague may be about to pounce on key former security officials arrested by Belgrade on suspicion of killing the prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

Serbian foreign minister Goran Svilanovic said this week that he is expecting The Hague to send the indictments of six or seven individuals.

Attention is focusing on Milosevic’s former secret police chief Jovica Stanisic and Red Berets officer Franko Simatovic, arrested in the police dragnet set up following the assassination.

But prosecutors at The Hague say many more indictments could be issued.

Prosecution spokesman Florence Hartmann said this week that a total of 35 will be prepared before the end of 2004, a number of them relating to suspects in Serbia-Montenegro.


Nikola Sainovic and Dragoljub Ogdanic, two of Milosevic’s co-indictees, this week asked the Hague Tribunal to let them out of jail until their trial begins.

Their lawyers appealed for provisional release, saying it would show the tribunal in a good light at a time when war crimes is a key issue in Serbia.

Lawyers promised that both men would reappear in The Hague in time for their trial. Judges are now considering the request.


Spain has referred a charge of crimes against humanity made against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to the International Criminal Court.

The charge was brought by a group of Spanish nationals charging Chavez with responsibility for the death of a fellow Spaniard who was among 20 people killed – the other 19 were Venezuelans – when security forces opened fire in a riot last April.

Spain said it has no jurisdiction in the case because Chavez is a head of state.

But the Spanish judge dealing with the case said it would be referred to the ICC.

What action the ICC will take is unclear: already more than 200 complaints have arrived at its Hague headquarters, but staff say only the new prosecutor, expected to be announced at the end of April, can decide on action.


The youngest attorney ever to set foot in The Hague showed up this week – 15-year-old American Valerie Winter.

Winter is a lawyer at the Youth Court, an experimental court at her school, Colony High, in Palmer, Alaska.

The court has no legal status, but is made up of children filling the role of judges, jury and lawyers to try their peers for minor infringements.

Winter, who hopes to go to law school, has represented several children in the court.

The court, now operating in several Alaskan schools, is popular with police keen to punish juveniles without exposing them to juvenile courts.

Cases include shoplifting, fighting and bullying, and penalties are blocks of community service hours – the more severe the crime, the more hours you do.

Attendance is voluntary, but organisers have found that children are usually willing to be “tried” – and accept their punishment.

After more than three years, the courts have reported that 90 per cent of children punished do not re-offend – and now the Alaskan local authorities have given the Youth Court funding.

“It gives them a chance to realise what they’ve done is wrong,” said Winter. “It gives them a chance to see how harsh the real world is – hopefully it scares the daylights out of them.”

Her most successful case was defending a boy who was bullied, and the following day came to school pretending to have a gun.

The charge is a serious one – schools are nervous following a string of shootings in recent years – but Winter was happy to defend him and he escaped with a few hours community service.

“This little kid was scared for his life,” she said. “ He was only seven.”


British TV reporter Terry Lloyd of ITN, famous for exposing many of the horrors in Bosnia that are now the subject of war crimes trials, is presumed dead in Iraq after being accidentally targeted by US artillery fire.

Lloyd made a name as one of the band of courageous reporters, foreign and local, who brought the full horror of the wars in the Balkans to a wider public.

Chris Stephen is IWPR bureau chief in The Hague.

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