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Hague Tribunal Won't Comment on Leaked Letter

Spokesperson says only that Judge Frederik Harhoff remains on Seselj case and will not comment on leak for the moment.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Frederik Harhoff, a judge at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
    Frederik Harhoff, a judge at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)

Nearly a week after a personal email written by a Danish judge was leaked to the media, the Hague tribunal is still refusing to comment on any aspect of the burgeoning scandal.

At a press briefing on June 19, court spokeswoman Magdalena Spalinska faced a barrage of questions from journalists. One challenged the decision not to comment, and asked how that squared with the tribunal’s professed position of transparency. Another journalist asked whether the tribunal’s Rule 77, covering contempt of court, could be applied to the situation.

With every question, Spalinska repeated that the court would not comment. She did, however, appear to acknowledge that the email was authentic – something she had not previously done.

“This is a private letter that leaked,” she said.

In the letter – which the Danish news site BT published on June 13 – Frederik Harhoff, a judge at the tribunal, criticises the recent controversial acquittals of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, former Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic, and Serbian intelligence officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.

The emailed letter also suggests that the president of the tribunal, American judge Theodor Meron, applied “tenacious pressure” to colleagues in a way that “makes you think he was determined to achieve an acquittal” for Gotovina and Perisic. Harhoff speculated whether “any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure” on Meron to “ensure a change of direction”.

“We will probably never know,” Judge Harhoff wrote.

“The latest judgements here have brought me before a deep professional and moral dilemma not previously faced. The worst of it is the suspicion that some of my colleagues have been behind a short-sighted political pressure that completely changes the premises of my work in my service to wisdom and the law,” the email concludes.

Shortly after the email was made public, the New York Times quoted anonymous sources who spoke of a “mini-rebellion brewing” against Meron inside the tribunal, and suggested he would not be supported when it came to re-election.

At the press briefing, Spalinska refused to comment on this matter, and similarly demurred when told that victim’s groups were petitioning for an independent United Nations investigation into the tribunal and into Judge Meron.

When one journalist suggested that it might be a good idea for Judge Meron to make some kind of comment on the situation in order to limit “damage” to the tribunal, Spalinska said he would not be doing so “at this point”.

A representative of the Office of the Prosecutor present at the briefing also refused to comment on questions relating to the letter.

However, Spalinska did confirm that Judge Harhoff remains on the case against Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, and that a judgement is still scheduled for October.

Judge Harhoff himself has made no public comment since the letter was leaked.

For more on the cases referred to by Judge Harhoff – Gotovina-Markac, Perisic, and Stanisic-Simatovic – and the issues involved, see Do Overturned Convictions Undermine Hague Tribunal? and Consternation at Serbian Security Officers' Acquittal.)

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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