Briefly Noted

Compiled by IWPR staff in The Hague (TU No 410, 10-Jun-05)

Briefly Noted

Compiled by IWPR staff in The Hague (TU No 410, 10-Jun-05)

Friday, 18 November, 2005

Referrals of low- and mid-ranking cases to national jurisdictions form a key part of plans to finish all trials and appeals proceedings in The Hague by the end of 2010.

The transfer of former Yugoslav army officers Miroslav Radic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Mile Mrskic had been expected to pave the way for at least eight more trials that are under consideration for referral to the Balkans.

The three men have each pleaded not guilty before the UN court to charges relating to the murders of 264 Croat patients, staff and soldiers who took refuge in the Vukovar hospital as the town fell to Serb forces in 1991.

They are accused of overseeing the rounding-up and transportation of victims.

In her request to withdraw the application for referral, Del Ponte cited “potential difficulties specific to this case” which were not foreseeable when the application was first made, or at a court hearing convened since then to discuss the matter.

Del Ponte did no specify what such “potential difficulties” might consist in, but they apparently emerged following further talks with officials from Serbia and Croatia, the two countries originally recommended by Del Ponte as best-placed to hold the trial.

When the referral application was first filed in February, it ignited a heated debate between Belgrade and Zagreb over who should be allowed to try the case.

At a hearing convened to discuss the matter in May, Croatian representatives repeated Del Ponte’s own argument that a Zagreb trial should be the priority, since the crimes in question were committed on Croatian territory.

Serbian representatives, for their part, claimed the right to try Serbian citizens who had surrendered or were arrested on Serbian soil.

The Serbian delegation also criticised the Croatian legal system, claiming it would be difficult for the three men to receive a fair trial in the country. They also suggested that a trial in Belgrade would help the Serbian public to face up to war crimes committed during the Balkans wars of the Nineties.

At the end of the May hearing, presiding Judge Alphons Orie acknowledged that the decision would not be an easy one.

He said the court recognised that relatives of the Vukovar hospital massacre victims would feel spurned if the trial were to be handed over to Belgrade. And he acknowledged that the “suspects could feel that little weight has been given to their rights” if the case were to be heard in Croatia.

This political and legal hot potato now appears to be firmly back in tribunal’s lap.

***

Former prime minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj has returned to the protectorate, having been released from UN detention pending trial before the Hague tribunal.

Haradinaj faces 37 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in connection with his time as a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

He is alleged to have participated in a brutal campaign in 1998 to abduct, torture and murder dozens of Serbs, Roma and Albanians.

Prosecutors had opposed his release, arguing that if allowed out of UN detention he could pose a danger to victims and potential witnesses in the case.

They also argued that – despite the fact that he surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal in March and despite assurances offered by the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK – Haradinaj still poses a flight risk.

But the trial chamber said it was satisfied that the accused would return to The Hague for trial, and noted that “there are no indications that he will pose a danger to victims, witnesses or other persons”.

Now that he is back in Kosovo, Haradinaj will have to report once a week to a police station designated by UNMIK. He will not be able to hold any position in government and is banned from discussing his case with anyone except his lawyers.

Prosecutors decided not to appeal the decision, on the grounds that they had no new arguments to offer.

***

Former Yugoslav army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic has been granted provisional release from the UN detention unit in The Hague pending trial.

Perisic, who faces thirteen counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war, surrendered to the tribunal in March, a few days after the indictment against him was made public.

He is charged with secretly providing aid to Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia during the conflicts in those countries in the Nineties, despite being fully aware that they were committing war crimes.

He is implicated, in particular, in the shelling of civilian targets and the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys following the fall of Srebrenica to Serb forces in July 1995.

Prosecutors had objected to Perisic’s application for provisional release, arguing that the charges against him are so severe as to give the accused every reason to try to flee.

They also claimed that the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro were not in a position to provide solid guarantees that they would arrest Perisic should the need arise.

But the trial chamber took into consideration the fact that the accused has cooperated extensively with prosecutors, providing “lengthy statements that are contained on 35 compact discs”.

Judges also underlined that the tribunal “recently granted provisional release to other accused of similar status on the strength attributed to guarantees of Serbia and Montenegro”.

Following his release, Perisic will have to report to the police every day and will not be allowed to have any contact with other accused, victims or potential witnesses.

Prosecutors have 24 hours in which to appeal the decision.

Support our journalists