‘Strong’ Indications Point to Former Yugoslavia Tribunal Completing Its Work by End of 2017, President Tells Security Council

SC/12391
8 June 2016
7707th Meeting (AM)

‘Strong’ Indications Point to Former Yugoslavia Tribunal Completing Its Work by End of 2017, President Tells Security Council

Staff Retention Woes Persist, He Says, as Russian Federation Queries Delays

Recent developments in several high-profile cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia were strong indications that its work was on track for completion by the end of 2017, although full cooperation with the court’s decisions and orders would be critical to ensuring grave crimes did not go unpunished, the Security Council heard today.

Given the Tribunal’s results in the last reporting period, any concerns about its commitment to a timely conclusion of proceedings should be put to rest, Carmel Agius, President of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, told the Council, adding that since his last presentation in November 2015, every single case scheduled for completion within the reporting period had been disposed on time.

Judgement had been delivered in the appeal case of Jovica Stanišić and Franco Simatović, and in the trials of both Radovan Karadžić and Vojislav Šešelj, he said.  On 14 December 2015, the Judges of the Appeals Chamber had delivered final judgement in the largest appeal case ever adjudicated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda — Nyiramasuhuko et al, otherwise known as the “Butare” case.  Following those judgements, only four cases were ongoing.

Turning to the trial of Goran Hadžić, he reported that he had been monitoring developments in that case very closely, due mainly to the advanced stage of the accused person’s illness.  The Prosecutor had filed a motion for formal termination of the proceedings and the defence had agreed that the case should be terminated.  The Trial Chamber was expected to issue a decision soon, hopefully before the end of June, he noted.

Staff retention remained a serious hurdle as the Tribunal’s work wound down, he said, adding that it presented an enormous challenge that cut across all operations.  While fully committed to downsizing, there was an urgent need for the Tribunal to be able to retain its experienced and specialized staff in order to complete its work, he said, warning that the rate of attrition would undoubtedly increase as the end drew near.

Theodor Meron, President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said the transfer of the remaining functions of the Tribunals and the Mechanism had occurred seamlessly.  Preparations were now under way for the Mechanism to relocate to the new premises of its Arusha branch, once construction was completed later in the year.  Important progress continued to be made in a number of other areas, including the transfer of Tribunal records to the Mechanism and continuing efforts to enhance access to them, as well as the improvement of processes for the provision of assistance to national jurisdictions.

Emphasizing that State cooperation was essential for his Office to complete its mandate, Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, expressed regret that Serbia had failed for one-and-a-half years to execute the Tribunal’s arrest warrants and transfer three indictees into its custody.  In similar previous contempt cases, Serbia had executed warrants without significant delay, he noted, adding that it was troubling that Serbia had yet to appoint a new Chief War Crimes Prosecutor, despite having had a year to do so.  “While my Office welcomed the adoption of Serbia’s National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, the overall situation raises legitimate doubt that there is real commitment to the goal of impartial accountability for war crimes,” he stressed.

Recalling that the Tribunal had originally been slated to finish its work by 2010, a time frame later extended to 2014, several speakers emphasized the need for the Tribunal to implement its completion strategy in an expeditious manner.  The Russian Federation’s representative said the Council had called upon the Tribunal to no longer delay, but in fact to accelerate, proceedings, but that had unfortunately not happened yet.

Serbia’s representative said the impression had been created that his country was somehow responsible for the recent acquittal of Vojislav Šešelj.  “This is not fair,” he said, pointing out that arrest warrants had been issued by the Tribunal’s Trial Chamber two months after Mr. Šešelj’s provisional release.  The Government was fully aware of the need to respect the Tribunal’s decisions and orders, and for that reason, it had decided to continue with the domestic case for the arrest and transfer of the three indictees to the Tribunal.

Croatia’s representative said that Serbia’s continued failure to cooperate with the Tribunal and to execute arrest warrants for three Serbian indictees was deeply troubling for his country, and called upon Belgrade to comply with the Tribunal’s requests without further delay.  Croatia was also gravely concerned about the participation of Tribunal-convicted war crimes in Serbian election campaigns during the reporting period, he said, adding that convicted persons had appeared at campaign events for Serbian political parties or on public television.

The representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina said his Government remained committed to strengthening national justice systems at all levels in order to bring persons responsible for atrocity crimes to justice.  The National War Crimes Strategy had improved the consistency of juridical practices nationwide, ensuring the protection and support of victims and witnesses.  Efficiency in the prosecution of war crimes cases had increased steadily, and the Office of the Prosecutor had 335 cases pending as of 1 January.

Rwanda’s representative said it was regrettable that eight fugitives and other suspects against whom there was ample and indisputable evidence remained at large.  He called on all Member States, especially those still harbouring genocide fugitives, to honour their obligations under the United Nations Charter and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  “Rwanda will not rest until each one of them has been tried,” he declared, adding that he remained extremely concerned about delays in other cases.

Also speaking today were representatives of Uruguay, Senegal, Malaysia, Egypt, Venezuela, China, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Angola, Japan and France.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m.

Briefings

CARMEL AGIUS, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, gave a brief overview of that court’s current status and measures undertaken to complete its mandate, saying that since his last presentation in November 2015, every single case scheduled for completion within the reporting period had been disposed on time.  Judgement had been delivered in the appeal case of Jovica Stanišić and Franco Simatović, and in the trials of both Radovan Karadžić and Vojislav Šešelj.  On 14 December 2015, the Judges of the Appeals Chamber had delivered final judgement in the largest appeal case ever adjudicated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda – Nyiramasuhuko et al, otherwise known as the “Butare” case.  Following those judgements, only four cases were ongoing, two trial cases involving two individuals, and two appeal cases involving eight individuals.

Turning to the trial of Goran Hadžić, he reported that he had been monitoring the developments of that case very closely, due mainly to the advanced stage of the accused person’s illness.  The Prosecutor had filed a motion for formal termination of the proceedings and the defence had agreed that the case should be terminated.  The Trial Chamber was expected to issue a decision soon, hopefully before the end of June, he said.  Following the appeal judgements in Stanišić & Župljanin and the likely termination of Hadžić, the terms of four judges would come to an end and the Tribunal would be left with a total of seven judges.  He said he was pleased with the progress of the Mladić trial, confirming that the existing forecast of November 2017 for its completion remained unchanged.

While there were no at-large fugitives charged with serious violations of international humanitarian law, warrants against three indictees in a pending contempt case were yet to be executed, he said.  Noting that interference in the administration of justice struck at the heart of what had been painstakingly built since the Tribunal’s birth, undermining its ability to carry out its work efficiently and fairly, he said a single judge in Serbia had decided that conditions for the transfer for the three indictees had not been met.  “Something is not right,” he said, emphasizing that Serbia had a duty to cooperate fully with the Tribunal, in accordance with Security Council resolutions and the Tribunal’s statute, which established primacy over Serbian domestic law.

Given the Tribunal’s results in the last reporting period, any concerns about its commitment to concluding proceedings by the end of 2017 should be put to rest, he said.  However, staff retention remained a serious hurdle, presenting an enormous challenge that cut across all areas of the Tribunal’s operations.  While fully committed to downsizing, there was an urgent need for the Tribunal to be able to retain its experienced and specialized staff to complete its work, he emphasized.  As staff members continued to leave for more secure employment, the rate of attrition would undoubtedly increase as the end drew near, he cautioned.

The Tribunal was doing all in its power to retain staff, but would not be successful without appropriate assistance and concrete retention measures, he stressed, calling upon the Secretariat, the Security Council and the General Assembly to assist the Tribunal before it reached the “point of no return”.  It would be necessary to provide with incentives, such as end-of-service-grants, in order to maintain the high quality of staff and the capacity to conclude all judicial work on time.  The Tribunal was engaged in a historic endeavour and must continue to be supported until the very end.  “We have come a long way in cementing the rule of international law and safeguarding fundamental principles of peace and justice,” he recalled, underlining that despite the challenges the Tribunal faced, he was committed to ensuring its efficient and orderly closure by the end of 2017.

THEODOR MERON, President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said the past six months had seen a number of important developments.  Following the judgement in the Stanišić and Simatović trial, the Mechanism would be responsible for the re-trial, which had been assigned to a three-judge panel.  Pretrial proceedings were already under way, as were pre-appeal proceedings for Karadžić and Šešelj.  The Mechanism Judges would continue to address requests for assistance to national judicial authorities, applications alleging contempt of court, and issuing nearly 200 decisions and orders during the reporting period, among other matters.

Recalling that the Mechanism had assumed responsibility for the remaining functions of the International Criminal Tribunals as of 1 January 2016, he said the transfer of functions had occurred seamlessly, and preparations were under way for the Mechanism to relocate to the new premises of the Arusha branch once construction was completed later in the year.  Important progress continued to be made in a number of other areas, including the transfer of Tribunal records to the Mechanism and continuing efforts to enhance access to them, as well as the improvement of processes for the provision of assistance to national jurisdictions.  The Mechanism’s legal and regulatory framework had been augmented and strengthened during the reporting period, and it also continued to benefit from regular audits by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which would help to provide valuable insight into how it could become even more efficient and innovative.

He went on to highlight the arrest of Ladislas Ntaganzwa as a significant achievement not only for the Mechanism, but for international justice and all those who sought to ensure accountability.  Mr. Ntaganzwa had been transferred to Rwanda in March, and the Mechanism was already monitoring the proceedings.  With eight fugitives remaining, the Mechanism’s tracking activities continued, he said, adding that the sustained support of Member States in that regard was essential to ensuring they were apprehended.  The Mechanism was reliant upon, and deeply grateful to, Member States that had agreed to enforce sentences imposed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism itself, he said, expressing hope that additional States would step forward and enter into such enforcement agreements.

SERGE BRAMMERTZ, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said judgements had been issued in three cases during the reporting period, bringing the Tribunal closer to completing its mandate by the end of 2017.  On 15 December, the Appeal Chamber had ordered a re-trial in the Stanišić & Simatović, and the Office of the Prosecutor looked forwarded to the delivery of the appeal judgement by the end of the month.  On 24 March, the Trial Chamber had unanimously convicted Radovan Karadžić for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and had sentenced him to 40 years in prison.  On 31 March, it had acquitted Vojislav Seselj of all charges, but the acquittal had since been appealed.  Work continued on the trials of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, he said, adding that closing arguments in Mladić would be presented later in the year.  The Office of the Prosecutor had filed a motion to terminate proceedings in Hadžić.

Emphasizing that State cooperation was essential for his Office to complete its mandate, he expressed regret that Serbia had failed for one-and-a-half years to execute the Tribunal’s arrest warrants and transfer three indictees into its custody.  In similar previous contempt cases, Serbia had executed warrants without significant delay.  It was also troubling that Serbia had yet to appoint a new Chief War Crimes Prosecutor, despite having had a year to do so, and was yet to execute the sentence imposed by the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Djukić case — an important test of Belgrade’s commitment to regional cooperation.  “While my Office welcomed the adoption of Serbia’s National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, the overall situation raises legitimate doubt that there is real commitment to the goal of impartial accountability for war crimes.”  That doubt was further compounded by the continued glorification of war criminals in Serbia, he continued, emphasizing that the country must demonstrate its willingness to cooperate with the Tribunal.  The positive trend in regional cooperation on war crimes justice appeared to be disappearing because too many political and public figures were denying well-established truths, inflaming ethnic tensions and repeating nationalistic slogans, he said.

Two appeal proceedings had commenced in the Karadžić and Seselj cases during the reporting period and pretrial proceedings had started in Stanišić and Simatović.  Consistent with the Security Council’s directions, the Prosecutor’s Office had employed “double-hatting” and roster arrangements to ensure the smooth, cost-efficient transfer of responsibilities from the Tribunal.  The “one office” approach allowed staff to be deployed flexibly across both institutions, without the need for time-consuming recruitment activities, allowing the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out ad hoc activities while remaining a small, temporary and efficient structure.  Regarding activities in Arusha, he said that his Office continued to monitor cases referred to national courts in France and Rwanda.  In one case referred to Rwanda, the accused had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He said that during his recent visit to Paris, he had received updates on the status of the two cases referred to France and would continue liaising with French authorities to encourage their expeditious completion.  The Prosecutor’s Office was firmly focused on locating and securing the arrests of the eight remaining fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal, he said, adding that it had begun in March to review its tracking efforts, redeploy existing resources and identify new avenues to pursue.  Genocide denial continued despite the Rwanda Tribunal’s judgements, he said, emphasizing the vital importance of education on the dangers of genocide ideology and discrimination for safeguarding future generations.  All States must actively promote the truth and stand against revisionism.

Statements

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), noting the pending challenges of carrying out the conclusion strategy, emphasized the need for due attention to staff retention.  Immediate dialogue was needed to address political and technical obstacles, as well as the absence of a regional judicial framework.  Noting the lack of information about the disappeared, he stressed the importance of progress in identifying human remains.  Welcoming the fact that the timeline of legal activities had not changed since the previous report, he said he valued the Mechanism’s important work in supporting and protecting witnesses.  Turning to the Rwanda Tribunal, he underlined the necessity to accord priority to the search for and prosecution of persons who remained fugitives and the need for State cooperation.  Uruguay was willing to consider any new proposals that the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal and the Mechanism considered necessary to address those concerns.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) welcomed the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s crucial role in strengthening the rule of law and promoting reconciliation and stability, and the Rwanda Tribunal’s contribution in establishing accountability.  The Mechanism was unique and Senegal was pleased with its work, but greater increased effectiveness, performance and streamlining were needed.  He encouraged the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal to carry out its work within the mandated time frame and voiced concerns about its capacity and need for training.  Regarding the Rwanda Tribunal, he expressed concern that fugitives remained at large and called on States to make every effort to cooperate so they could be apprehended.  Senegal had retaken control of the eight prison cells renovated by the International Criminal Court and was ready to hand them over as soon as possible, he said.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) called for Serbia’s full and immediate cooperation with the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, as stipulated in the relevant agreements, and urged the Tribunal to consider seriously the recommendations contained in the OIOS report.  He commended the Tribunals’ efforts to provide closure, justice and accountability for atrocities committed against victims and their families.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said accountability was not intended only to protect the rights of victims and hold perpetrators responsible.  Rather, it was a tool of international justice that should be viewed as a preventative mechanism for ensuring that crimes which shamed humanity would not be repeated, as well as a warning to those who considered committing such crimes.  Nevertheless, many horrific crimes continued around the world today, he said, emphasizing that “our work is far from complete”.  An unambiguous message must be sent that grave violations of international humanitarian law would not be tolerated, he said, stressing that support for international justice mechanisms depended on support from the Security Council, as well as the full cooperation of all Member States of the United Nations.

WILMER ALFONZO MÉNDEZ GRATEROL (Venezuela) described Mr. Karadžić’s conviction and sentence of 40 years in prison as a transcendental decision in the fight against impunity and the application of justice in line with due process.  Reaffirming the autonomy and independence of international judicial bodies, he said the politicization of judicial processes compromised transparency.  All those responsible for committing crimes, without exception, must be brought to trial in order to consolidate the credibility of international tribunals, he said, expressing concern about the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s staffing challenges.  Venezuela noted the remaining procedural challenges and hoped they would be overcome in time to meet established deadlines.

LI YONGSHENG (China) said it was imperative that the Tribunal base its work on the findings of the OIOS report.  Hopefully, any progress in that regard would be reflected in the Tribunal’s next report.  He also expressed hope that Serbia and the Tribunal would continue friendly consultations so as to promote the latter’s work, emphasizing the need to continue improving efficiency and reducing costs.  China would continue to support the Tribunal and the Mechanism, he said.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal would only be able to achieve its completion strategy if all relevant States complied with their obligations under Security Council resolution 827 (1993).  While aware that Serbia faced some challenges, New Zealand encouraged its Government to maintain its positive record of cooperation with the Tribunal.  Noting that the OIOS report painted a mixed picture of the Tribunal’s performance, she said her delegation accepted that there was room to improve some aspects of its work, although some administrative and other problems could have been avoided.  The Tribunal’s central priority should remain the completion of its work by 2017, she said, urging a pragmatic approach to addressing the deficiencies identified in the OIOS report.  It was even more important to capture the lessons learned from the report and to feed them into the work of the Mechanism and future tribunals, she said, adding that the Mechanism should be commended for its work to date and that her delegation was pleased with its efforts to maximize effectiveness and efficiency.

EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation), recalling that the Council had called upon the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal to no longer delay, but in fact accelerate the processing of cases under its jurisdiction, said that had unfortunately not happened yet.  The Tribunal was duly resourced, in terms of both staffing and financing, to conclude its work expediently, he noted.  Describing the findings in the OIOS report as “dismal”, he said that his delegation agreed with its recommendations and was taken aback by the Tribunal’s negative reaction to them and by its refusal to implement them.  Calling upon the Tribunal to analyse and implement the recommendations, he said the Russian Federation would carefully follow proceedings in the Mechanism to ensure there would be no further “hitches”.

FRANCISCA MARÍA PEDROS CARRETERO (Spain) noted the positive signs of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s commitment to meeting its target closure date, but expressed concern about the reduced cooperation on the part of some States.  The fight against impunity must be the “work of many”, she said, emphasizing that it was more important than ever that national authorities address accountability gaps, since that was undoubtedly their responsibility to both the victims and future generations.  On Serbia’s refusal to hand over three indictees, she urged respect for the Tribunal’s decisions, even when a State did not agree with them.  Spain called upon all relevant States to cooperate in finding, apprehending and bringing any remaining fugitives before the Mechanism or the Rwandan authorities, she said.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) welcomed the closure of the Rwanda Tribunal on 31 December 2015 and noted that the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal was also on its way towards concluding its functions.  Expressing concern about staff retention, a problem expected to become acute as the Tribunal approached the end of its mandate, he encouraged the Tribunal to continue all measures to minimize the impact of staff attrition on its ability to deliver justice.  Ukraine recognized the importance of regional and State cooperation in ensuring that those responsible for crimes were held accountable, he said, voicing concern about Serbia’s failure to execute arrest warrants and transfer three indictees into the Tribunal’s custody, in violation of its international obligations.

HELEN MULVEIN (United Kingdom) said she looked forward to the outcome of the Hadžić case and remaining appeals, hopefully by November 2017 in all cases.  Emphasizing that national justice systems must ensure accountability, she noted the Prosecutor’s ongoing concerns about the slowness of courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, urging that country’s Government to work with the Tribunal and other partners to complete cases.  Noting the achievements of the Serbian War Crime Prosecutor’s Office in cases involving Serbian nationals, she encouraged it to appoint a new prosecutor, saying she was pleased that cooperation with the Tribunal’s Prosecutor was satisfactory in most respects.  As for the recent decision of the High Court in Belgrade, she said Serbia had an obligation to cooperate with the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal and expressed hope that the Serbian authorities would make every effort to ensure the transfer of the individuals concerned.  The United Kingdom also hoped the remaining eight fugitives wanted by the Rwanda Tribunal could be brought to justice.  She welcomed the Mechanism’s implementation of some of the recommendations from the OIOS audit and was working on others.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said the pursuit of sober justice and the establishment of facts was vital in the case against Mr. Karadžić.  That genocide had occurred at Srebrenica was clearly established, yet the Security Council had failed to accept a simple resolution on the twentieth anniversary of that event.  He emphasized the need to remain persistent in the pursuit of the eight remaining fugitives wanted by the Rwanda Tribunal, saying the Mechanism must re-energize efforts to apprehend them, and African States in the region must cooperate in that regard.  The United States would maintain its offer to give $5 million in rewards for each fugitive, he said.  Full cooperation by all States was essential, he stressed, noting that while trials may be inconvenient to those responsible for crimes, it was not true that pursuing justice frustrated unity.  On the contrary, it disputed fiction.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) noted that successive delays in the completion of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s work had been the source of some tension within the Security Council.  The Tribunal should have closed its cases by 2010, or by the end of 2014, at the latest, he said, expressing concern over its staff attrition challenges.  Angola hoped they would not delay the completion of the Tribunal’s work.

TAKESHI AKAHORI (Japan) said his delegation appreciated the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s efforts to deliver judgements, despite serious staff attrition, and emphasized that it could only carry out its work successfully with necessary cooperation from Member States, which had an obligation to cooperate fully with the Tribunal.  Recalling that resolution 1966 (2010) had created the Mechanism as a small and limited organ, he said his delegation was pleased to hear that it was striving to carry out its work in the most efficient and innovative fashion possible.  However, Japan was concerned that construction of new Mechanism’s permanent facility in Arusha faced delays.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s evaluation approach was compatible with judicial independence and ensured administrative justice.  France expected the Tribunal to implement the OIOS recommendations, including the establishment of a code of conduct, disciplinary mechanism for justices and a central information system on staff reduction.  The Tribunal’s activities to that end should be included in its next report.  An efficient, adaptable management system and equitable geographic representation were vital for its proper functioning, he said.  France continued to support the Mechanism’s efforts to arrest fugitives, he said, adding that the two cases in the French courts were being tried with full diligence and rigour.  France was in constant contact with the Rwanda Tribunal and the Mechanism, and remained the only State that had accepted the transfer of fugitives from the Rwanda Tribunal.

EMMANUEL NIBISHAKA (Rwanda) welcomed the fact that the 93 individuals indicted for genocide by the Rwanda Tribunal were mainly the masterminds, but also included national and local leaders who, as international fugitives, had been beyond the reach of Rwandan justice.  However, it was regrettable that eight fugitives and other suspects against whom there was ample and indisputable evidence remained at large.  He called on all Member States, especially those still harbouring genocide fugitives, to honour their obligations under the United Nations Charter and the Genocide Convention.

“There is no legal justification whatsoever that can explain why these individuals are neither tried nor sent to where they can be tried.  Rwanda will not rest until each one of them has been tried,” he said, adding that he remained extremely concerned about the delays in the case against Laurent Bucyibaruta.  The trial in Paris of Octavian Ngenzi and Tito Barahira must be expedited and conducted impartially and independently, he emphasized, noting that the prosecution’s decision to drop charges against Wenceslas Munyeshyaka contradicted the nature and scale of the crimes committed.

He said that while the Rwanda Tribunal archives were United Nations property, there should be no ambiguity around the fact that they should be transferred to Rwanda upon completion of the Mechanism’s mandate.  Their presence in Rwanda would be a reminder to Rwandans of what had happened.  It was important to preserve the country’s historical records for future generations, he said, adding that they would act as a tribute to those who had suffered.  Rwanda concurred with Prosecutor Brammertz on the danger of genocide ideology and genocide denial, he said, stressing that it was everyone’s responsibility to educate young generations and fight attempts to further dehumanize survivors.  Education, cooperation and legislation were also needed to end ethnic divisionism.

SAŠA OBRADOVIĆ (Serbia) said that his country remained firmly committed to cooperating with the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, while the domestic judiciary continued to fight impunity for core international crimes perpetrated during the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  The Tribunal’s Prosecutor had been accorded free access to evidence located in Serbia, including documents, archives and witnesses.  The Government of Serbia had adopted the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, aimed at improving the efficiency of domestic war crimes proceedings and promoting regional cooperation.  That strategy reflected the Government’s commitment to accountability for core international crimes, regardless of the national, ethnic or religious status of the perpetrator or victim, he said.  Serbia fully understood and shared the Prosecutor’s concern about the evident regression in regional cooperation, he said, calling on the United Nations to find a way to ensure strict and continuous international monitoring in the field.

Accountability was a regional issue and national war crimes prosecutors must cooperate faithfully in the fight against impunity without political interference, he said, adding that Serbia supported the Prosecutor’s view that the search for missing persons must be intensified.  However, the impression had been created that Serbia was somehow responsible for the recent acquittal of Vojislav Šešelj.  “This is not fair,” he said, pointing out that arrest warrants had been issued by the Tribunal’s Trial Chamber two months after Mr. Šešelj’s provisional release.  The Government had conducted a security analysis and decided that it could not execute the orders at that moment due to national security risks.  The Government did not wish to protect the accused from criminal prosecution and was fully aware of the need to respect the Tribunal’s decisions and orders.  For that reason, it had decided to continue with the domestic case for the arrest and transfer of the three accused to the Tribunal.  For the first time, however, the High Court in Belgrade had decided that the legal conditions for execution of the Tribunal’s warrants had not been fulfilled in the case, he recalled, stressing nevertheless, that the court’s decision in no way precluded Serbia’s determination to continue its cooperation with the Tribunal in the most active manner possible.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said his delegation was deeply troubled by developments in the case of Goran Hadžić, who had been charged with 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.  Although initially declared fit to stand trial, his trial had been adjourned and then suspended, he recalled.  Regardless of the prosecution’s attempts and motions for the trial’s continuation, the proceedings were now stayed indefinitely, he said, adding that it was difficult to understand the Trial Chamber’s logic in the case.  Croatia was also deeply disappointed, dismayed and concerned about the judgement of first instance in the Šešelj case, which seemed totally to ignore legal and factual findings previously established by the Tribunal.  Concurring with the Prosecution’s assessment that the Trial Chamber had erred both in law and in fact, he said that he expected that the appeal would bring long-awaited justice for Mr. Šešelj’s victims.

Croatia remained deeply concerned about Serbia’s continued failure to cooperate with the Tribunal and to execute arrest warrants for three Serbian indictees, he said, calling upon Belgrade to comply with the Tribunal’s requests without further delay.  He said that his delegation was gravely concerned about the participation of Tribunal-convicted war crimes in election campaigns during the reporting period, pointing out that convicted persons had appeared at campaign events for Serbian political parties or on public television.  Convicted war criminals had no place on ceremonial stages or in public life.  They belonged on the margins of society as an example and eternal reminder of failed policies that had resulted in unspeakable atrocities, he said.

MILOŠ VUKAŠINOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said his country remained dedicated to the fight against impunity and would continue its steady, full cooperation with the Mechanism.  Fighting impunity domestically was a prerequisite for achieving national reconciliation and long-term stability in the country and the wider region.  The Government remained committed to strengthening national justice systems at all levels in order to bring persons responsible for atrocity crimes to justice, he said, adding that the National War Crimes Strategy improved the consistency of juridical practices nationwide, ensuring the protection and support of victims and witnesses.

He went on to say that efficiency in the prosecution of war crimes cases had increased steadily, and the Office of the Prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina had made further progress in resolving outstanding Category II cases and issuing important indictments, he said, noting that there were 335 cases pending as of 1 January.  Implementation of the National War Crimes Strategy had played an important role in post-conflict reconciliation, he said, welcoming the European Union’s support in implementing it, that of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), particularly in connection with witness protection and providing appropriate assistance and support to victims.  In September 2015, the Council of Ministers had adopted a justice sector reform strategy for 2014 to 2018 that would help reinforce the rule of law and consolidate the judicial system, including measures to improve judicial independence and efficiency, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.