Kosovo Investigation: Arbour's Candid Statement

Tribunal Update 121: Last Week in The Hague (12-17 April, 1999)

Kosovo Investigation: Arbour's Candid Statement

Tribunal Update 121: Last Week in The Hague (12-17 April, 1999)

Saturday, 17 April, 1999

Asked last week if she thought that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic qualified for war crimes charges, the Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour responded: "It would not be candid to say I did not see a possibility." Arbour said this at the Brussels NATO HQ after talks with Secretary-General Javier Solana and other Alliance officials last Wednesday.

The main topic of the talks was, understandably, the Kosovo investigations. In a brief meeting with journalists, Arbour said that western governments must do more to help the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) collect evidence of war crimes in Kosovo and provide it with "the best possible access to information that is usable in court."

She also warned the Alliance "not to lose track" of refugees - potential witnesses - who are being transferred from Albania and Macedonia to other countries. Statements by NATO member states concerning unconfirmed information or supposed evidence of horrific war crimes in Kosovo had put heavy pressure on the the OTP and its 85 investigators, and had - Arbour said - "created immense expectation that we would deliver immediately the product of evidence", i.e. the indictments.

But, Arbour warned, "where I sit it looks much different: information is one thing, and evidence is something completely different." The Prosecutor also expressed her concern that Serb forces were destroying evidence of their crimes in Kosovo.

It remains to be seen whether the Alliance's accusations against Serb forces, that Arbour referred to, are more than simply a by-product of the war propaganda used by western governments to justify their military campaign, and if so a sign of the evolution in their perception of the role of the Tribunal.

Western governments have always professed publicly to be on the side of justice, but "tomorrow... not today", because - at least in the past - they always had some other, "more important, unfinished business" with Mr. Milosevic.

This has been evident from the way those same governments have in the last three months of the past year ignored half a dozen dramatic appeals from both the Tribunal's Prosecutor Arbour and its President Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald to the UN Security Council.

The appeals sought energetic action in response to obstructionism by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) of the Tribunal's Kosovo investigations as well as the refusal to extradite three officers of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) indicted for their part in the November 1991 massacre of civilians in Vukovar.

The Security Council, or the powers that hold sway there, never wanted to step on President Milosevic's toes, wary of endangering his alleged 'co-operation' in the fiction of the Kosovo 'peace-process'.

In the event, Milosevic's so-called co-operation amounted to little more than the protracted talks with U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, the OSCE and NATO last October and of the Rambouillet and Paris negotiations in February and March, that failed to advance the peace process.

It is now obvious that Milosevic used the grace period to prepare the 'final solution to the Kosovo problem'. This realisation may have sobered up western governments and helped them understand that the time for justice is "today, and not tomorrow."

If this is true, it would be better if information and evidence of war crimes is not used for propaganda purposes since those reports not only put undue pressure on the Tribunal, but also warn those who committed the crimes of the areas where the evidence has not yet been destroyed fully.

According to the latest available evidence coming out of Kosovo, the forces committing crimes are also intensively involved in the destruction and alteration of evidence, often by immediately removing bodies far from the scene of the crime.

Following her talks with NATO, the Prosecutor appears confident that this time she will obtain the hard evidence she needs to pursue justice. "We have had a very useful dialogue with a lot of our information providers so that there is a much better understanding of what our needs are" - Arbour said on Friday, after talks with US Assistant Secretary of State, Harold Koh.

Koh, who is the chief human rights official in the Clinton administration, visited the Tribunal to "discuss ways to improve the timely delivery of information about events in Kosovo to the Office of the Prosecutor."

Koh told a news conference that: "The United States was working to make sure that non-governmental organisations asked a standardised set of questions to refugees fleeing from Kosovo." The United States also gave a grant to the American Bar Association's Coalition for International Justice to help it document human rights violations in Kosovo.

"American government support for this unprecedented collaboration to document these cases will help ensure that all potential sources of evidence will be tapped and that those who commit these crimes will be held responsible," he said.

Also on Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced the appointment of senior Foreign Office official, David Gowan, as the UK's Kosovo War Crimes Co-ordinator, who will be responsible for passing information on Kosovo atrocities to the Tribunal.

His job involves: combing through existing Foreign Office reporting for material of interest to the Tribunal; analysing new material as it comes in, including eyewitness accounts by refugees of Serb atrocities; co-ordinating input and collecting material from other ministries; liasing with Judge Arbour and the Tribunal, and, as necessary, with David Sheffer, the US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes.

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