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'Vukovar Three' Case: FRY At 'The End Of The Road'

Tribunal Update 106: Last Week in The Hague (14-19 December, 1998)

Three officers of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) - Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic - were heard on Thursday 17 December as witnesses in an investigation of crimes committed by "unknown perpetrators," where at least 260 patients, wounded and civilians were forcibly removed from Vukovar Hospital and executed at the nearby farm of Ovcara on 20 November 1991.

The hearing was attended by representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), who informed the presiding Judge of the Military Court of Tribunal's "request to defer", and handed him copies of international arrest warrants of the three JNA officers, who were first indicted in November 1995.

The presiding Judge, Tribunal Update has learnt, took the warrants with the comment that "there is nothing [he] can do with them," and failed to hand them over to the indictees. The continuation of the seven-year late "Vukovar investigation" by FRY authorities had been set for 21 December 1998.

By choosing to default on the formal "request to defer", issued by the Trial Chamber on basis of Article 9 of the Statute, whereby the Security Council established Tribunal's "primacy over national courts", the FRY authorities had, in view of Chief Prosecutor Arbour, reached "the end of the road."

The OTP will, Arbour said, wait until the expiration of the 60-day deadline for FRY's compliance with the "request to defer", before requesting the Tribunal's President to submit to the attention of Security Council the complete list of FRY's non-compliancies with ICTY, as well as to demand adequate measures.

The Security Council is already at work on such measures, Harold Koh, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights, told the Tribunal during a visit he made last week. Assistant Secretary of State Koh thus explained why he believes Russian Federation should also be prevailed upon to take decisive measures to protect the authority of Tribunal from challenges by the Belgrade authorities:

"Concealing war criminals from the jurisdiction of the Tribunal; refusing to allow investigators access into the scene of atrocities; having proceedings that are designed to avoid the jurisdiction of the Tribunal... are all signs of a direct rejection of the goals of the Tribunal that the Security Council, including the Russians, took great pains to establish."