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Thwarted Kosovo Mission of Louise Arbour

Tribunal Update 109: Last Week in The Hague (18-23 January, 1999)

Earlier, on Monday, January 18, Arbour and her investigators were turned back from the Macedonian-Yugoslav border, after a member of the Yugoslav border police found that they did not have entry visas for the FRY.

Arbour spent two days in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, awaiting the results of the international pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. All the world powers and bodies: the UN Security Council, NATO, European Union, OSCE, the US government, the leading European powers, and even Russia -demanded that the FRY grant "immediate and unrestricted access" to The Hague prosecutor and her investigators, and to cooperate with them in an "immediate and full" investigation of the massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians, committed on January 15 in the Kosovo village of Racak.

This however proved to be of little help and Milosevic remained adamant that neither the Tribunal nor the Prosecutor had any business in Kosovo, since there is no "armed conflict" there, but only the "legitimate repression of terrorism."

It was of no help either that Arbour while in Skopje had offered Belgrade a deal through Yugoslav Justice Minister, Zoran Knezevic. As she explained on Thursday at the busiest press conference the Tribunal has so far seen, Arbour suggested that the authorities accept that "essentially we agree to disagree on that (jurisdiction) issue, for the time being, and that I be granted access in the interest of truth and meet the expectations of the international community."

According to Arbour, the deal would see The Hague and Belgrade temporarily leaving aside "the more complex debate as to whether or not crimes that undoubtedly have been committed...should be characterised as crimes against humanity or war crimes committed during an internal armed conflict, in which case I have jurisdiction, or whether - as is asserted by the FRY - this is in fact purely domestic repression of terrorism and remains the domestic matter."

Along with this, Arbour offered Belgrade a public guarantee that her access to Kosovo will not be used "as evidence that the FRY has voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the ICTY."

Although she believes it is only a "smoke screen", the Chief Prosecutor also announced that she will formally request Yugoslav visas for herself and her investigators, in spite of her deep conviction that the mandate given to her by the UN Security Council, means she does not need visas in order to carry out on-site investigations of crimes on the territory under her jurisdiction. The OTP investigators enter all other states on that territory, Arbour said on Thursday, only on the basis of their UN "laissez-passer."

"I have to continue to insist that we are entitled to go, as soon as possible, but at the same time I want to be very clear that this is not such an insurmountable obstacle that we would be completely defeated by lack of access" - Arbour reminded her audience that a number of early indictments were issued "when the war was raging in Bosnia and when in fact we had no access to the site of the crimes." She went on, "Of course, it is not ideal and we are entitled to better...but obstructionism will not stop us."

Arbour does not rule out a possibility that the evidence of the crime may be removed - while she is waiting for access - and last week noted that "the crime scene was very seriously compromised the moment the TV cameras came in". She added however, that "evidence of tampering - should such evidence become available, is in fact excellent circumstantial evidence of guilt. If one can trace where the order to tamper came from, it permits a pretty strong inference that it was done for the purpose of hiding the truth, which demonstrates consciences of guilt."

The Chief Justice made a point on Thursday of refusing to be drawn into speculating upon claims first published in the French press and subsequently refuted by a report by the KVM (Kosovo Verification Mission), that the bodies of the killed in Racak were allegedly "re-arranged" in order to create impression of a mass execution.

Arbour said that it would be "foolish to jump to any conclusion on a basis of second hand reports." She added that it "it would be very surprising if there were not several versions of the truth circulating...and until credible, professional and independent investigators are given access...I don't think any of these versions will be credibly validated."

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