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

ICTY Still Aiming for December 2014 End Date

Tribunal president notes concerns about workload and limited resources.
By Alexandra Arkin
  • Judge Theodor Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY. (Photo: Margaret Zimmerman/Flickr)
    Judge Theodor Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY. (Photo: Margaret Zimmerman/Flickr)

The president of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, says it is continuing to work towards completing all the cases before it by the end of 2014, despite constraints placed on its work by a lack of resources.

Judge Theodor Meron delivered a progress report on the tribunal’s completion strategy to the United Nations Security Council in New York on December 7. It was the first time he had addressed the Security Council since assuming the ICTY presidency in November.

Judge Meron said limited manpower and the need to ensure that all indicted persons received fair trials had slowed the tribunal’s work, as had the recent arrests of ex-Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic, and the former leader of Croatia’s rebel Serbs, Goran Hadzic.

Mladic was arrested in May after 16 years on the run, and Hadzic was apprehended in July after evading arrest for seven years.

Judge Meron told the Security Council it was impossible to predict when judgements would be issued in the trials of these two individuals.

The judge provided an update on the 15 ongoing cases. Two are in at the pretrial stage, seven are in trial and six have reached the appeal stage. Of those at trial, judgements are expected this year in six cases, and judgement in the case against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is expected in 2014. One appellate judgement is due in 2012, and the remaining five in 2013.

Judge Meron also informed the council about specific measures he had adopted to accelerate the tribunal’s work, especially with regard to appeals. These included halving the time taken to translate judgments, and changing the method for assigning judges to contempt cases to minimise disruption.

Another challenge facing the tribunal was staff retention, Judge Meron said.

“Nothing is thus done to remedy the grave problem of large-scale departures of often our most talented staff, including some critically needed legal officers from trial and appeals teams,” he said, according to an unofficial transcript of his address that the tribunal released. “All of this impacts on the right of the accused to a fair and expeditious trial, and on the prospects for the timely implementation of the completion strategy.”

He went on to describe the affect of the staffing shortage on the operation of the tribunal. “Unless something is done to help us with staff retention… we cannot guarantee that estimates for the completion of core work of the tribunal will not be further revised,” he said.

The ICTY has proposed a “retention bonus”, taking the form of a modest payment similar to that given to staff whose contracts are terminated early. But no progress has been yet been made in putting this in place in meetings with the UN secretariat.

Judge Meron also reiterated the concern of his predecessor, Judge Patrick Robinson, over whether the United Nations detention unit will have the capacity for convicted war criminals to serve their sentences. He asked the Security Council to repeat its request to states to cooperate with the tribunal in enforcing the sentences it imposed.

Despite the challenges facing the ICTY, Meron said it had achieved “significant successes.”

The arrests of Mladic and Hadzic mean there are no fugitives still being sought by the ICTY, and every living person indicted by it has been or will face trial, either at the tribunal itself or in courts of national jurisdictions.

Meron said that with respect to legal doctrine, the greatest achievement of the ICTY and its “sister court” the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had been the contribution they made to the development of international criminal law.

“This corpus of jurisprudence outweighs by far that of Nuremberg,” he added.

The ICTY has also aided in the prosecution of war crimes cases in the former Yugoslav states themselves.

Meron praised his predecessor Judge Robinson, whose “outstanding achievements”, he said, had “significantly strengthened the ICTY”.

The formal report on the ICTY’s completion strategy was submitted to the Security Council in November by Judge Robinson. It was the 16th report of its kind. Since May 2004, the Security Council has required assessments from the tribunal’s president and prosecutor every six months.

Alexandra Arkin is IWPR’s intern in The Hague.