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

OTP Gives Green Light To Bosnia For The Arrest Of Fikret Abdic

Tribunal Update 107: The Last Three Weeks in The Hague(20 December 1998 - 10 January 1999)
By IWPR

Later on he abandoned the Presidency and turned his sights to creating his own stronghold and his own army in the so-called Cazinska Krajina area of North-Western Bosnia, with the "capital" in Velika Kladusa. Perched in his nest, he traded with both the Serbs and the Croats, and fought both with and against the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The OTP examined the dossier of Fikret Abdic on the basis of the so-called "Rules of the Road" scheme. This scheme was established on Richard Holbrooke's initiative by the parties to the Dayton Accord in Rome on 18 February 1996, in order to prevent arbitrary arrests on false charges for war crimes.

According to "Rules of the Road", persons - other than those already indicted by the Tribunal - may be arrested and detained for war crimes only pursuant to a previously issued order, warrant or indictment that had been reviewed and deemed consistent with international legal standards by the Tribunal's Office of the Prosecutor.

Having examined the dossier provided by the Bosnian authorities, the Prosecutor's office concluded that the evidence presented establishes a sufficient number of elements for a sound case against Abdic. He is alleged to be responsible for grave breaches of international humanitarian law due to inhuman treatment of civilians and POWs, and their forced mobilization.

But while Bosnia was given permission to arrest and prosecute Abdic, he is out of their reach. After the end of war, he moved to the Croatian Adriatic port of Rijeka and adopted Croatian citizenship. Not only is the extradition of Croatian citizens to other states prohibited under the the Croatian Constitution, but Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have an international extradition agreement in force.

It appears that a long and torturous wrangling between Sarajevo and Zagreb is in order, except in the case of Tribunal's request for the deferral of his case to its jurisdiction.

OTP, however, has no such intention at present, although it does not exclude such option for the future. The Prosecutor, Louise Arbour, says that "the fact that we gave a favourable opinion [for the national prosecution] does not preclude us requesting deferral in the future." Speaking generally rather than about this concrete case, Arbour noted that "sometimes we [the OTP] may have an interest in the case... but not be sufficiently advanced in our own investigation to justify deferral."

In her explanation of how the "Rules of the Road" scheme works, Arbour put the standards for the process of examination of presented evidence as used by the OTP researchers into perspective.

The aim of that process, Arbour said, is to establish whether - on the basis of submitted evidence - there is a prima facie case or an appearance that the information is sufficient to proceed with the arrest. "We do not interview any witnesses; we make an assessment on the basis of written evidence, and we do not pass any judgement on the credibility of the evidence, but merely on its legal sufficiency - not to sustain a conviction - but to justify an arrest, which is a lower standard."

In the last year alone, OTP reviewed 65 such dossiers and informed the sides which had submitted them "either that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with an arrest, or that there is not, or that the Prosecutor intends to seek the deferral of the case, or that the suspect that they are pursuing... is of interest to OTP as potential witness."