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Del Ponte Praises Serbia's Cooperation With Tribunal

Tribunal’s chief prosecutor satisfied with Serbia’s efforts to arrest remaining war crimes fugitives, but wants to see more results soon.
By Lisa Clifford
Addressing the UN Security Council this week, the Hague tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte praised Serbia’s cooperation with the Hague tribunal, but warned its legacy would be forever tarnished if the court’s remaining fugitives aren’t captured.

In her last report to the Security Council before leaving office in September, Carla Del Ponte said that four indictees who remain at large - including former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic - are a “permanent stain” on the tribunal’s work.

Del Ponte admitted prosecutors have no idea where Karadzic is but said she believes all the fugitives are either in Serbia or within Serbian reach.

“The continuing impunity enjoyed by Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic gravely undermines all efforts to bring justice to the victims,” Del Ponte told the Security Council on June 18. “This impunity also seriously affects the credibility of the international tribunal, which was mandated to prosecute those most responsible for the most serious violations committed in the former Yugoslavia.”

But there was good news for Serbia - and its hopes to join the European Union.

Del Ponte said her recent visit to Belgrade where she met President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica resulted in promises of cooperation to arrest the four.

There have been two arrests in recent weeks – Zdravko Tolimir and Vlastimir Djordevic. Del Ponte said Serbia worked directly with prosecutors to locate Djordevic in Montenegro. Cooperation between Serbia and Republika Srpska resulted in Tolimir’s arrest on May 31, she said.

Djordevic was a senior Serbian police officer indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against Kosovo Albanians in 1999. Tolimir is accused of genocide and other crimes at Srebrenica in 1995.

“These arrests demonstrate Serbia’s commitment to fully cooperate with my office,” said Del Ponte, who also cited a significant decrease in the backlog of outstanding requests for crucial documents from Serb authorities.

Serbia’s hopes of eventually joining the European Union have been instrumental in improving its cooperation with the tribunal, and Del Ponte urged the EU and others to keep up the pressure.

“As experience shows, this council, the European Union, other regional organisations and states, can provide strong incentives for states from the former Yugoslavia to finally fully cooperate with the international tribunal,” she said.

Discussing the court’s record, Del Ponte said 59 people have been convicted. Six trials are currently going on with 25 accused in the dock, while 11 cases are still at the pre-trial stage.

Del Ponte said cooperation from Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina has been “generally satisfactory” and praised Republika Srpska’s role in facilitating the arrest and transfer of Tolimir to The Hague.

As the tribunal gradually winds down, the states of the former Yugoslavia are increasingly taking on cases involving lower- or middle-ranking accused, with evidence against hundreds of suspects being transferred from the tribunal to Belgrade, Skopje, Sarajevo and Zagreb.

Six cases involving ten accused have gone to Bosnia so far, two cases to Croatia and one to Serbia.

The latest to get underway this week in Croatia involves two former army generals charged with war crimes. Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac are indicted for persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; murder; plunder of public or private property; and wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages. The charges against them relate to an attack on Serb civilians in the so-called Medak Pocket, south of the city of Gospic in Croatia.

“Although we have seen some progress in domestic prosecutions,” said Del Ponte, “I advise the international community to remain vigilant. The temptation of respective governments to interfere in these processes is still very present.”

Tribunal president Fausto Pocar also addressed the UN this week. In a wide-ranging speech, he assured the Security Council that the court was doing all it could to meet the UN-mandated completion strategy.

Pocar said that most Hague trials would be done by 2008, four others by mid-2009 and the final two by the end of that year. Should any of the remaining fugitives be arrested in the coming weeks, some of their trials should also be completed by the end of 2009, said Pocar.

In her speech, Del Ponte admitted that the completion strategy is “strong encouragement” for some who oppose the court to do nothing and simply wait until the tribunal closes its doors. “I trust that necessary action will be taken to prevent this tactic from succeeding,” she said.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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