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

Cash Crisis Threatens Tribunal Work

Court president warns that trials may be delayed or cancelled after certain UN member states defaulted on pledged payments.
By Alison Freebairn

War crimes proceedings in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, are under threat after several United Nations member states failed to make promised financial contributions.

Tribunal president Judge Theodor Meron warned the UN Security Council on June 29 that the shortfall was bound to play havoc with the work of the ICTY and could even threaten its ability to try high-profile war crimes suspects before the projected 2008 cut-off date.

“The international community cannot expect the [ICTY], on one hand, to complete its work in an efficient and effective manner while, on the other hand, withholding the necessary resources to ensure that [it] is able to function,” he warned.

“A lack of adequate funds for the tribunal to conduct its trials would be taken as a lack of commitment on the part of the international community to the rule of law and to international justice.”

As well as being ordered to implement a hiring freeze, tribunal staff have been told to cut back on all non-essential travel after the UN budget for both the ICTY and its companion organisation, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, fell short of an estimated 88 million US dollars.

IWPR understands that more than a hundred member states have failed to pay their contributions. Japan is apparently the largest defaulter - responsible for more than 40 per cent of the shortfall - but many other countries, including the United States, Russia, Brazil and Argentina, are also believed to be in arrears.

However, of the responses given by country representatives at the June 29 meeting, only Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg of Brazil admitted that his government was one of the defaulters, and stated that his government was making an effort to pay its outstanding contribution.

Speaking at the meeting, ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said that the restrictions placed on the tribunal as a result of the budget shortfall would directly affect its completion strategy, which was rubber-stamped by the Security Council last year. In it, the tribunal pledged to conclude all its investigative work at the end of 2004, complete all remaining trials by 2009, and finish all other business within a further two years.

“The scarcity of investigative resources will inevitably slow down the preparation and conduct of trials,” she warned. “Because this untenable situation is directly influencing the completion of our mandate, we urge you to support us in our efforts to solve this very serious problem.”

Previously, the tribunals were able to cushion the effects of any budget shortfall by borrowing funds from the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, but a recent rule change has closed that particular avenue – exacerbating the cash crisis and leading to the recruitment freeze, which was imposed in May.

This is causing great disquiet in The Hague, as it applies not only to the creation of new posts, but also prevents the tribunal from replacing key personnel who choose to leave their jobs. This is liable to become a greater problem as the court moves toward the end of its mandate, as more staff may decide to leave rather than risk unemployment when the ICTY closes its doors.

Speaking at the Security Council meeting, Judge Meron said, “The current financial shortfall of contributions from member states has resulted in an unacceptable and disruptive effect on the work of the tribunal.

“Unless we are able to replace staff members who occupy critical posts which are necessary to the conduct of cases, we will be forced to delay, suspend or stop trials.”

Highly-qualified legal officers and their assistants are already in short supply at the tribunal, and the hiring freeze prevents it recruiting new ones.

“Without adequate assistance from legal officers, the time required for the judges ... to hear and decide cases will increase dramatically,” Judge Meron said in a letter to the Security Council at the end of May.

“In order to ... provide justice to victims and putting an end to impunity, the Tribunal needs the strong support of the United Nations and all member states, as well as the necessary resources to do its job,” he added.

Another request from New York – that the tribunal’s staff cut down on all non-essential travel – is also being honoured. An ICTY spokesperson told IWPR that if an investigator needed to go to the former Yugoslavia to look into a case, that would carry on as normal and without hindrance. However, if, for example, a tribunal expert was invited to an overseas conference or event, he or she would now have to think carefully about whether to accept.

While UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has described the financial situation facing both tribunals as “unacceptable” and called on all member states to continue their support for the bodies, it is still unclear what the Security Council’s next move will be – or if more cutbacks are in the offing.

Following the meeting on June 29, the Security Council said that its members “acknowleged the difficulties facing the tribunals as the completion strategies approached”, and urged defaulting member states to “live up to their financial obligations”.

International justice advocate Geraldine Mattioli of Human Rights Watch said it was ironic that the funding problems had come at a time when the ICTY was “working at full speed” to complete the task asked of it by the Security Council.

“We share President Meron’s indignation,” she told IWPR. “The [ICTY] is making a huge contribution in re-establishing respect for the rule of law in the Balkans, and UN member states have an obligation to support its work.

“The ICTY and ICTR are very important and they must be given the resources they need. Yes, there are other things happening in the world, but the UN created these tribunals, and cannot just drop them like an old toy.”

Alison Freebairn is an IWPR editor in The Hague.

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