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Prosecutor Withdraws Request to Transfer Vukovar Three

By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has withdrawn its motion and request for referral of the 'Vukovar Three' case to either Croatia or Serbia.  The request to transfer the case back to national authorities in the region was controversial from the beginning – not only because the case was so politically charged for both countries, but also due to the years of effort spent negotiating with Serbia to hand over Mile Mrskisc, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin to the ICTY.   The case, in which the three accused are charged for their participation in leading the massacre of over 260 Croat and other non-Serb persons who sought sanctuary at the Vukovar Hospital remains one of the most notorious and brutal episodes of the Yugoslav wars.  


 


The Vukovar massacre – and the continued flight of the suspects - were the subject of several UN Security Council statements and helped galvanize public international support for the creation of the ICTY.  In its Motion, the OTP acknowledged the 'significance of the prosecution of these three Accused as reflected in Security Council Resolution 1207, adopted 17 November 1998.'  The Security Council Resolution underscored the importance of bringing the three to trial in The Hague in order to preempt what critics feared would be an attempt by the Serbian authorities to thwart a serious attempt at justice by setting up a 'show-trial' of the three in Belgrade.


 


The Prosecution also pointed to certain 'issues' that 'became apparent following recent discussions with officials of the two states mentioned for possible referral' which 'relate to the potential difficulties specific to this case which were not foreseeable either at the time of the filing of the Request…or at the time of the hearing'


 


The Prosecutor moved the Referral Bench to withdraw the request and order reinstatement of the case to the appropriate Trial Chamber.  Currently, the Prosecutor has requested that 18 persons from 10 cases be referred under Rule 11 bis to national authorities to try.  All of these cases involve mid- to lower level indictees.  These 11 bis referrals have been requested in part due to pressures by the UN Security Council to wrap up the trial work of the ICTY by 2008.  However, a recent report by the President and Prosecutor of the ICTY to the UN Security Council stated that due to the Tribunal's success in bringing nearly 20 suspects into custody just in 2005, the court's caseload has burgeoned.  It is therefore unlikely that trials of first instance would be completed by the Security Council's aspirational deadline of 2008.  With six trials ongoing and courtrooms working at full capacity, it may be the end of 2009 before trials can finish.

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