Departing prosecutor at UN tribunal laments Serbia’s failure to arrest suspects

10 December 2007 –

Serbia continues to do nothing to arrest the two most notorious suspects from the 1990s Balkan wars, the outgoing Prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said today, declaring that her previous optimism that Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadžic might soon be in custody “has waned considerably.”

Carla Del Ponte, who steps down from her post later this month, told the Security Council that “it is a stain on the International Tribunal’s work that two individuals indicted for genocide and responsible for the worst crimes committed in Europe since the Second World War are still fugitives.”

Mr. Mladic, who led the Bosnian Serb military forces, faces 15 charges, including two of genocide, seven of crimes against humanity and six of violating the rules or customs of war. Mr. Karadžic, a former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, faces two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of violating the laws or customs of war and one count of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Karadžic and Mr. Mladic are two of only four men out of 161 initial indictees who are still at large, but under the completion strategy established with the Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has said it will try to finish all trials at the first instance by the end of next year.

Ms. Del Ponte told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York today that it was vital that Council members not “close the door” on the Tribunal until Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadžic are brought to justice.

In response to questions, she noted that she was pursuing the arrest of Mr. Mladic ahead of that of Mr. Karadžic.

“Because I know where Mladic is, and I know that Serbia can give me Mladic. But Karadžic – I don’t know in which country of the region is hiding. I know he is in the region, but I could not tell you if it is in a monastery in Montenegro, or in Republika Srpska, or in Serbia, or in an apartment in Serbia. I don’t know because I’m focusing now on Mladic, because Mladic is in the immediate reach of Belgrade.”

Before today’s Council briefing, Ms. Del Ponte gave this month’s President, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy, a letter from “the women of Srebrenica,” the town that was the scene of a notorious massacre in July 1995 in which more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed, in which they urged the 15-member body to keep the Tribunal operating until the fugitives are caught.

Earlier, she told the Council that she held high hopes earlier this year of a breakthrough in Serbia and that the remaining fugitives would be arrested and transferred to the ICTY’s custody in The Hague.

However, “despite the Serbian authorities’ declared commitment to fully cooperate with my Office and improved procedures, there is no clear road map, no clear plan in the search for fugitives, no serious leads and no signs that serious efforts have been taken to arrest the fugitives.”

She urged the European Union to make the arrest of Mr. Mladic a condition of Serbia’s process of accession to the continental bloc.

“EU conditionality has in recent years been the most effective tool to obtain the transfer of ICTY fugitives. I am convinced that the arrest of the remaining four fugitives will only be achieved if this policy is upheld.”

The Prosecutor, who is being succeeded by Serge Brammertz, the current head of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), concluded that although there was “some unfinished business” for Mr. Brammertz, the Tribunal had still “achieved a great deal. It has accomplished most of its goals and has paved a wide and solid road for international justice… And yet, I will leave this institution with a feeling of disappointment.”

Serbia’s representative, Pavle Jervremovic, said the four remaining fugitives would be located and apprehended in the near future, and that authorities in his country had recently taken steps to improve their cooperation with the Tribunal on issues ranging from witness access to production of documents. The Government had also promised rewards to anyone providing information leading to the arrest of the suspects, he noted.

Meanwhile, the Council also heard briefings from ICTY President Judge Fausto Pocar and from Judge Dennis Byron and Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the President and Prosecutor respectively of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was set up to deal with the worst crimes committed during the 1994 genocide in that country.

The ICTR faces a similar completion strategy to the ICTY, with all trials at first instances expected to be wrapped up by the end of next year and all work, including appeals, by 2010.

In its most recent report to the Council, the Tribunal – which is based in Arusha, Tanzania – says that “significant progress has been made” towards fulfilling the mandate, and that it is largely on schedule to meet the completion strategy.

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