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Tribunal in Race to Meet Deadline

Tribunal faces uphill task if it is to complete all trials by 2009.
By Brendan McKenna
Three years after issuing its last war crimes indictments, the Hague tribunal is racing to finish its work.

The three trial chambers have been conducting seven trials simultaneously involving 18 defendants since January and have concluded 106 of their 161 cases, according to the tribunal’s annual report issued this week.

The report said the appeals chamber has simultaneously handed down “a record number of decisions, including 11 judgments in the past year and seven in the past six months”.

But the tribunal still faces an uphill task if it is to meet its target of completing all trials by 2009 and its appeals a year later.

The tribunal, at the recommendation of the working group set up to hasten its work, has also ensured there are always other trials ready to go when a case is completed or encounters an unexpected delay.

The tribunal referred 13 cases back to local officials in an effort to keep its focus on the most senior commanders accused of the most serious crimes.

The report said both court officials and prosecutors had worked to strengthen local judicial systems so they could handle the trials sent back by the tribunal and other cases of low-to-mid ranking suspects.

The prosecutor’s office also announced two additional arrests of accused war criminals in the past year, Zdravko Tolimir and Vlastimir Đorđević.

Đorđević, a former assistant minister of the Serbian ministry of internal affairs and chief of the public security department, is accused, along with former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic and four others of an ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo.

Tolimir, the assistant commander for intelligence and security in the army of Republika Srpska, the Serbian enclave within Bosnia, was indicted on charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the Serbian campaign against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and Zepa.

“The failure to arrest the four remaining fugitives, including Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, continues to represent an affront to justice,” according to the prosecutor’s section of the report.

Karadzic was president of Republika Srpska while Mladić was commander of the main staff of the Bosnian Serb army.

“The cooperation of the Belgrade authorities has been complicated,” said the report.

“Cooperation deteriorated seriously from October 2006 to March 2007 and then visibly improved in May and June 2007 following the formation of the new Government, although cooperation did not reach the point of being full and consistent. …. Regrettably, no progress was made with respect to Karadžić and Mladić.”

The judicial services division reported bringing a total of 628 witnesses to The Hague to testify over the year covered by the report - almost double the total of the previous year.

Brendan McKenna is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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