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European Parliament Members Seek Tribunal Extension

Court officials say they may need up to two more years to complete their work.
By Simon Jennings
The European parliament hopes to ask the United Nations to keep the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, open until 2012 – two years longer than previously planned.

On March 12, members of the European parliament voted in favour of a proposal to ask the UN Security Council, UNSC, which established the ICTY in 1993, to extend the court’s mandate.

This would mean it would not have to rush through its remaining trials and give time for the remaining fugitives – ex-Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic – to be tried.

“The ICTY should have time to serve justice in the way it should be served,” said Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, who sits on the European parliament committee on foreign affairs which drafted the proposal.

“That is completing the cases that are now before the tribunal [and] giving the indictees the opportunity to appeal if they feel they should appeal the possible sentences,” she told IWPR last week.

In their submission, parliamentary members are also calling for a scaled-down court to remain in The Hague to try two war crime suspects still on the run, once they are arrested.

European Council ministers still need to give the proposal their formal support before it can be sent to the UNSC.

The ICTY has already missed its original targets – laid out under UNSC resolutions passed in 2003 and 2004 – of wrapping up all first-instance trials by the end of 2008 and all appeals procedures by the end of 2010.

While the court has repeatedly called on the UNSC to extend its term beyond 2010, no formal extension has been offered by the UN.

In September last year, the UNSC extended the contracts of 27 ad-litem or temporary judges at the Hague court “until 31 December, 2009 or [until] the completion of cases to which they were assigned, if sooner” – a sign that the original deadlines are not set in stone.

Officials at the court say they do not expect its work to be completed at least until 2011, with the possibility of some procedures extending into 2012.

There are still four trials yet to get under way at the court, most notably that of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who has already warned that his will be a “mega trial”. He is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including two counts of genocide – for atrocities committed in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995.

In its motion, the EU parliament notes that the ICTY’s legacy rests on both the individuals that it brings to justice as well as the judicial standards that it applies in the process.

“The tribunal will be measured not only by whether it succeeds in judging those responsible for the most serious crimes falling under its jurisdiction, but also by whether it does so in accordance with the strictest standards of fairness,” reads the proposal.

The ICTY itself is supporting European parliament’s recommendation.

“The tribunal welcomes the support of the European Parliament for its work and the successful completion of its mandate in bringing to justice those persons most responsible for the most serious crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars,” it said in a statement following this week’s vote.

The court says its mandate will only be fully complete once the remaining fugitives have been arrested and tried.

Mladic, the more notorious of the two, is accused of orchestrating the massacre of nearly 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 – an atrocity that the UN’s International Court of Justice, ICJ, found to be genocide in 2007.

Both Mladic and Hadzic continue to evade justice despite Serbia’s assurances that it is doing all it can to arrest them. At the insistence of The Netherlands, backed by Belgium, the European Union has also tied Serbia’s further progress towards membership of the bloc to their capture and transfer to The Hague.

“The two remaining fugitives should be judged by the ICTY and if that would be impossible within, let’s say the next two years, or by the end of 2012, then it should happen by a residual, small structure which we want to remain [in place] to complete the work,” said Neyts-Uyttebroeck.

“It would, of course, be terrible if the fugitives, by remaining fugitives for sufficiently long, escape justice.”

Observers have welcomed the parliament’s recommendation.

“The proposal is eminently sensible, both pragmatic and principled,” Karim Khan, a defence lawyer at the ICTY told IWPR.

“It would be extremely disappointing if the tribunal was brought to a premature halt when it is currently seized of one of the first targets of its investigations which is [Radovan] Karadzic and, of course, the possibility of [Ratko] Mladic.

“I think an extension definitely would not occasion any significant or disproportional cost.”

Khan also praised the calls for a residual tribunal to try fugitives arrested at a later date.

“Even if Mladic, who, of course, is a high-profile target, is not brought to the court in the next two years, I think some mechanism needs to be created whereby if he is arrested, he is not dealt with only by a national court, but by an international tribunal, and that may not be that complicated,” he said.

But despite the perceived merits of the proposal, observers are cautious about how the UNSC might respond, assuming that EU ministers vote to submit it.

“I'm not very optimistic that it will get approval from the Security Council,” Marko Attila Hoare, a Balkans expert at Kingston University in London, told IWPR.

“[The European parliament] is a bit more likely [than the UN] to do things based at least partly on principle rather than simply state interest.

“Those bodies that have more power and influence don't necessarily feel obliged to follow [this example]. I would be inclined to be cautious to see how it is received by the Security Council.”

The proposal also takes account of the work that the ICTY does in assisting domestic war crimes courts in the region.

Over the last five years, courts in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have all made varied progress on trying suspected war criminals from their own countries, with the tribunal providing important support.

“We want to give to the tribunal the opportunity to continue with what I feel is very good work in assisting the local, national judiciaries in conducting the trials for a number of indictees which do not appear before the ICTY, but before other regional structures,” said Neyts-Uyttebroeck.

The proposal also contained recommendations regarding the future home of the court’s archives in order to secure “the legacy of the tribunal”.

It asks that the archives be stored “possibly in the region of the Western Balkans”, and urges that they are as complete and accessible as possible and that documentation is made available via the internet.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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