With Expected 2017 Closure of Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, President Requests Security Council Mandate Extension for Judges in Remaining Cases

SC/12614
8 December 2016
7829th Meeting (AM)

With Expected 2017 Closure of Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, President Requests Security Council Mandate Extension for Judges in Remaining Cases

Speakers Appeal to Turkey for Release of International Residual Mechanism Judge

Confident that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia would “close its doors” at the end of 2017, its President informed the Security Council today that the Tribunal only had one trial, one appeal and one contempt case remaining and requested a final extension of the judges’ mandates until the end of November next year.

Briefing the Council on progress made and challenges encountered, Carmel Agius said there was a systemic institutional problem with international justice:  it was called politics.  While sensitivities might arise as a result of cooperating with the Tribunal, that could not be an excuse for failing to do so, referring to the pending contempt case of Jojić et al., in which Serbia had yet to execute the arrest warrants for three indicted persons.  Serbia had also failed to file any monthly progress reports since May.  He asked the Council’s support in that matter.

The development of an international justice system was a long-term project which was just getting started, he said.  The Tribunal, as the first international criminal tribunal since World War II, had played an enormous role in those beginnings.  Not only had it changed the way of thinking about and reacting to impunity, it had served as a powerful catalyst for the establishment of other international courts and tribunals, he stated.

Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said the Mechanism had made much progress in the past six months, both in its cases and in the development of its regulatory framework.  However, the continuing detention of Judge Aydin Sefa Akay was a “serious matter” which was impacting the effective discharge of the Mechanism’s mandate. 

He pointed out that Judge Akay enjoyed diplomatic immunity from the time of his assignment to the Ngirabatware proceedings and through to their conclusion.  Yet the judge remained detained and unable to carry out his duties on that case.  Respect for the fundamental principle of judicial independence could not be reconciled with the removal of Judge Akay from the bench to which he had been assigned.  All States had to respect their obligations arising under resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, he said, appealing to the Government of Turkey to release Judge Akay.

Serge Brammerz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said his Offices were firmly focused on three priorities:  expeditiously completing trials and appeals; locating and arresting the remaining eight fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and providing assistance to national jurisdictions prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Reporting on various cases before the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal and the Mechanism stemming from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he said cooperation by the countries of the former Yugoslavia remained critical to the completion of the mandate, noting that Serbia continued to ignore and breach its legal obligations to cooperate with the Tribunal.  As for locating and arresting the remaining eight fugitives for the Rwanda Tribunal, he said his Office had completed its overall review of tracking efforts and major steps were now being undertaken to resolve the challenges identified.

He further noted that politicians and Government officials from the region of the former Yugoslavia were undermining trust in judicial accountability for war crime and calling into question the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.  The glorification of war criminals also continued throughout the region, as demonstrated by the Republika Srpska National Assembly’s decision to officially decorate convicted war criminals. 

In the ensuing debate, speakers hailed the efforts of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal to end its work by the end of 2017 and commended the Residual Mechanism for its efficient and transparent work.  Many stressed that the creation of criminal tribunals had made clear that the perpetrators of serious crimes against humanity would not go unpunished. “We can’t afford the luxury of forgetting the lessons of history that were learned at a staggering cost of human lives,” stressed the representative of Ukraine.

Speakers further underscored the importance of States cooperating with the Tribunal and the Mechanism, expressing the hope that the detention of Judge Akay by Turkey would come to a speedy solution.  However, while most speakers supported measures to prevent staff attrition in the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, the representative of the Russian Federation, stated that the Tribunal was adequately staffed, and delays in judicial proceedings were due mainly to the unequal distribution of work and the excessively long preparation of cases. 

Other speakers also expressed concerns regarding the Tribunals and the Mechanism, including the representative of Rwanda who underscored the substantial body of jurisprudence produced by the Rwanda Tribunal, including definitions of the crime of genocide and rape as a weapon of war.  The unilateral decision to store the Rwanda Tribunal archives in a specific location without involving Rwanda could not be decided merely on the basis of logistical and administrative considerations.  A significant part of the documents had been provided by her Government to the Tribunal for prosecution work.  They legally belonged to Rwanda and must be returned, she emphasized.

The representative of Croatia pointed out that, despite its achievements, the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal had only convicted two persons for the horrors that took place in the Croatian city of Vukovar, the largest massacre in Europe after World War II.  Such an imbalance between the magnitude of the crime and the justice served was something to bear in mind while evaluating the Tribunal.  It was also important to note that regional cooperation in criminal matters was evolving against the backdrop of conditions vividly described in the reports. 

Responding to criticism that his country was not cooperating with the Tribunal, Serbia’s representative said over 45 defendants, out of the 46 requested, had been handed over to the Tribunal.  As for the non-extradition of three individuals, he said the High Court in Belgrade had decided that the legal conditions for the executions of the Tribunals’ warrants had not been fulfilled in that case.  Serbia had proved its commitment to prosecuting all crimes that the Security Council had listed in the statute, he stressed. 

Still, the representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina emphasized that 2017 would not be the expiration date for the pursuit of justice, nor did the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s closure imply the end of his country’s fight against impunity — a prerequisite for achieving national reconciliation and long-term stability, he said.  Prosecuting war crimes, regardless of national origin or religion, was crucial in helping build a peaceful and prosperous country.

The representatives of Uruguay, New Zealand, France, China, Senegal, Japan, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United States, Egypt, Venezuela, Angola and Spain also spoke.

The meeting started at 10:06 a.m. and adjourned at 12:38 p.m.

Briefings

CARMEL AGIUS, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said the Tribunal had continued to work vigorously, with only one trial, one appeal and one contempt case remaining.  With its mandate nearly complete, it was on track to deliver judgements in both the Mladić trial and the Prlic et al. appeal by November 2017.  In light of the projected completion dates of the cases, he had submitted a request for a final extension of the judges’ office terms, he said, adding that he was confident the Tribunal would “close its doors” at the end of 2017.

He said the Tribunal had taken the evaluation and recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) very seriously.  Everything that could feasibly and appropriately be done had been done, including the adoption of a Code of Professional Conduct for Judges.  However, the Tribunal had not implemented the recommendation regarding a disciplinary mechanism, bearing in mind the lack of time and resources.  The lack of such a mechanism was a systemic issue that affected other courts and tribunals, he said, adding he regretted that the OIOS evaluation had been carried out at the very end of the Tribunal’s lifespan.  In the future, those evaluations should be carried on an ongoing basis.  The evaluation had focused on efficiency, almost to the exclusion of factors such as fairness and due process.

He went on to say that there was a systemic institutional problem with international justice:  it was called politics.  While sensitivities might arise as a result of cooperating with the Tribunal, that could not be an excuse for failing to do so, referring to the pending contempt case of Jojic et al., in which Serbia had yet to execute the arrest warrants for three indicted persons.  Serbia had also failed to file any monthly progress reports since May.  In addition, one week ago, the Trial Chamber had made public international arrest warrants and orders to surrender the three persons indicted.  He asked the Council’s support in that matter.

“I take enormous pride in closing down an institution of the calibre of the [Tribunal],” he said.  Nonetheless, it was no easy task.  In that regard, he raised once more the concerns of the Tribunal’s staffing situation.  Staff attrition would, if left unchecked, increase the risk of the Tribunal not being able to complete the remaining cases by the end of November 2017.  The Tribunal had developed a proposal for the consideration of the General Assembly, which would, if adopted, help to mitigate the risk posed by staff attrition.

The development of an international justice system was a long-term project which was just getting started, he said.  The Tribunal, as the first international criminal tribunal since World War II, had played an enormous role in those beginnings.  Not only had it changed the way of thinking about and reacting to impunity, it had served as a powerful catalyst for the establishment of other international courts and tribunals, he stated.

THEODOR MERON, President of the International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said the Mechanism’s new premises in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, had just opened and included a dedicated archives facility, allowing for the co-location of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Mechanism archives, as directed by the Council.  He noted the Government of Rwanda’s view had been conveyed to him calling for the archives to be physically located in Rwanda. 

The Mechanism had made much progress in the past six months, both in its cases and in the development of its regulatory framework, he said.  In the appeal cases of Karadžić and Šešelj, briefings were ongoing before the Appeals Chamber, while the pretrial conference in the Stanišić & Simatović retrial was anticipated in the first quarter of 2017.  He also noted that of the 214 judicial decisions and orders issued during the reporting period, nearly 40 per cent related to requests for access to confidential information.

He then raised the “serious matter” of the continuing detention of Judge Aydin Sefa Akay, which was having an impact on the effective discharge of the Mechanism’s mandate.  Judge Akay enjoyed diplomatic immunity from the time of his assignment to the Ngirabatware proceedings and through to their conclusion, but he remained detained and unable to carry out his duties as a judge on that case.  Observing that some might believe the situation could be resolved by replacing Judge Akay, he said that option was simply not open as a matter of law and justice. 

He went on to say that respect for the fundamental principle of judicial independence could not be reconciled with the removal of Judge Akay from the bench to which he had been assigned, and he called on the Security Council to do their utmost to bring about a timely resolution of the situation.  He assured the Government of Turkey that he was compelled by his duties as the President of the Mechanism to raise the matter in the Security Council.  All States had to respect their obligations arising under resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, he said, appealing to the Government of Turkey to release Judge Akay.

SERGE BRAMMERTZ, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said his Offices were firmly focused on three priorities:  expeditiously completing trials and appeals; locating and arresting the remaining eight fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and providing assistance to national jurisdictions prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

He said his Office was now making its closing argument in the trial of Ratko Mladić, the Tribunal’s last fugitive.  Evidence from more than 150 witnesses and more than 7,800 exhibits on all eleven charges in the indictment had been submitted.  Preparations were continuing for the appeal hearing, which was expected to take place in the spring of 2017.  The case against Goran Hadžić had been terminated following his death in Serbia.

As for the Residual Mechanism trials and appeals in The Hague, pre-trial proceedings remained underway in the Staniŝtić and Simatoić case.  Appeal briefs had been filed in the Ŝeŝelj and Karadžić appeals.  No trials and appeals were currently ongoing in the Arusha Branch.  His Office was monitoring five Rwanda Tribunal cases that had been referred for trial to the national courts of Rwanda and France.

He said cooperation by the countries of the former Yugoslavia remained critical to the completion of the mandate, echoing President Agius’ grave concern that Serbia continued to ignore and breach its legal obligations to cooperate with the Tribunal.  As for locating and arresting the remaining eight fugitives for the Rwanda Tribunal, he said his Office had completed its overall review of tracking efforts and major steps were now being undertaken to resolve the challenges identified.

Regarding assisting national judiciaries in both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, he said his Office continued its close cooperation with the National Public Prosecution Authority and the Prosecutor-General in Rwanda.  Rwandan authorities had identified more than 500 suspects who were present in other countries.  His Office had encouraged third-party States to work with Rwandan authorities to ensure those cases were completed.

While recognizing that results were being achieved in national prosecutions in the former Yugoslavia, he also noted a significant setback with the failure by Serbian authorities to enforce the war crimes conviction in the Djukić case.  In addition, political authorities in the region were not living up to their commitments to support national war crimes justice.  Politicians and Government officials from the region were undermining trust in judicial accountability for war crime and calling into question the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.  The glorification of war criminals also continued throughout the region, as demonstrated by the Republika Srpska National Assembly’s decision to officially decorate convicted war criminals.  He called upon officials in the region to refrain from politicizing ongoing investigations and prosecutions.

Statements

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) noted the continued progress of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, including that it would finish its judicial work on time.  However, he also acknowledged the two situations that could affect that forecast, namely the three individuals accused of contempt of Court and the pending arrest warrants, and the difficulties in retaining staff until the end of the Tribunal’s work.  As the current Chair of the Informal Working Group on International Tribunals, he called on all to contribute toward resolving those situations.  The interest of international justice should prevail over short-term financial factors.  Turning to the matter of the Rwanda Tribunal, he noted the priority accorded to prosecuting the eight people who were still on the run, as well as the importance of inter-State cooperation.  However, he also expressed grave concern over the situation of the Ngirabatware case and Judge Akay.  The situation was very delicate and he called on all to assist towards resolving it.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said the completion of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had taken far too long.  While the Tribunals could have done more to expedite their work, it was clear that political factors had also played a major role in the delay.  Governments had not always provided the level of cooperation required and the Security Council had not been as active or effective in supporting progress as it should have been.  As the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal entered its final year, exclusive focus should remain on completing its work by the end of 2017.  The Council and the United Nations must support the Tribunal in achieving that goal and the cooperation of all relevant States remained essential to its completion strategy, he stated.

TANGUY STEHELIN (France), stating that the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal had played a pioneering role, said that work should evolve into other tribunals.  Calling for cooperation with the Tribunal and the Mechanism, he welcomed the fact that recommendations of OIOS had been implemented, such as the recommendation for a Code of Conduct had been implemented.  Victims were crying for justice to be rendered, he said, noting that the Residual Mechanism had drawn on the good practices of the Tribunal.  The Residual Mechanism was temporary however, he said.  The Tribunal should complete its work next year.  Each State was the best guarantor that “intermediate” criminals would be tried.

LI YONGSHENG (China), welcoming progress made by the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, took note of the challenges facing it.  He hoped that it would enhance its efficiency so that it could conclude its work by November 2017.  He also welcomed the fact that the Residual Mechanism had taken over all the remaining work of the Rwanda Tribunal and was supporting national judiciaries.  The Residual Mechanism should be small, temporary and efficient, he said, expressing the hope that the Tribunal would cooperate closely with the Residual Mechanism to have a smooth transfer of activities.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the creation of criminal tribunals had been a major contribution to developing international law.  Noting that his country had received prisoners from the Rwanda Tribunal, he said the overriding goal of the Tribunals was to establish a prevention mechanism for the most serious crimes.  It should be made clear that the perpetrators would not go unpunished.  The failure of the pursuit of justice had a lasting impact on international peace and stability, he said, calling for national judiciary systems to shoulder their responsibilities in that regard.  Staff attrition deserved special attention, he said, and welcomed the commitment shown today to respect the timeframes to end the Tribunal’s work.  He also called for geographical representation in the staffing of the Residual Mechanism.

EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation), observing that the report on the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal had no information regarding a delay on examining cases, expressed expectation that the timeframe for judicial proceedings would be reduced.  The Tribunal was adequately staffed, and delays in judicial proceedings were due mainly to the unequal distribution of work and the excessively long preparation of cases.  Requests for bonuses did not correspond to conditions of services at the United Nations, causing one to wonder about whether the staff of the Tribunal was committed.  The Tribunal should focus on bringing to justice high-level cases.  Contempt of court cases did not fall into that category.  The possibility of transferring secondary cases under national jurisdiction was also noted.  The topic should not have an impact on the strategy of closing down the Tribunal and Tribunal officials should not be distracted from their main goals.  He pointed out that he had spoken in favour of conducting independent expert assessments of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal.  OIOS had conducted such an assessment and auditors had identified problems, to which the Council had been alerted, such as the lack of guidelines.  Regarding the Residual Mechanism, which was a temporary structure, he noted that duration of its mandate was subject to biennial assessment by the Security Council. 

TAKESHI AKAHORI (Japan), commending the leadership of the President of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, called upon the Tribunal to maintain its judicial timeline as it approached completion at the end of 2017.  He expressed concern about instances of non-cooperation and urged Member States to meet their obligation.  He thanked OIOS for its report and took note of efforts made by the Tribunal that resulted in the Code of Conduct.  While implementation of OIOS recommendations was important, the Tribunal’s priority should continue to be the completion of its judicial work by the end of next year, he said.

RAMLAN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), noting OIOS’s evaluation on the methods and work of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, said that while its other recommendations may have merit, the Tribunal should focus its time and resources on completing its judicial work within the stipulated deadline instead of being distracted by administrative and management issues.  The reversing trend in cooperation with the Tribunal was deeply disturbing, especially in the context of the revisionist movement in the region and the glorification of war criminals.  Those warning signs must not be ignored by the international community because they could undermine the great strides made in past decades towards ending impunity for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.  In that regard, he urged Serbia to uphold its legal obligations to resume cooperation with the Tribunal, including executing its arrest warrants.  He also called on the relevant Member States in the former Yugoslavia to intensify the pace and effectiveness of war crime prosecutions by their national authorities for cases referred to their jurisdictions. 

HELEN MULVEIN (United Kingdom), noting that the transition to the Mechanism was continuing on schedule, said she recognized the difficulties caused by staff attrition and that she hoped they would remain in their roles to complete the work.  Cooperation with the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal remained as important as ever.  Expressing concern that arrest warrants had still not been executed, she urged Serbia to surrender those individuals to the Tribunal.  While stating her belief that all international tribunal judges should be subject to a code of conduct, she pointed out that it was too late in the Tribunal’s life to implement all OIOS recommendations.  She also voiced concerns by the situation regarding Judge Akay, noting that the Secretary-General had asserted the judge’s immunity, as well as the existence of ongoing legal proceedings before the Mechanism.  It was hoped resolution could be found as soon as possible.  All those indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal should be apprehended, and all States were called on to cooperate to that end.

ISOBEL COLEMAN (United States) said she supported the work of the Mechanism to conclude appeals proceedings in the cases of Karadžic and Šešelj.  However, she noted with concern the detrimental impact of diverse and divisive political speech in the region; inflammatory rhetoric could harm the former Yugoslavia.  It was also concerning that arrest warrants for three individuals remained unexecuted in Serbia for 22 months, she said, calling on that country to execute arrests expeditiously.  Commending efforts by the prosecutor regarding the eight remaining fugitives from Rwanda, she noted that the United States continued to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of those men.  Also of concern was that casework was being impaired while Judge Akay remained detained in Turkey; the Security Council had provided for judges to be able to work remotely.  It was hoped the matter could be resolved expeditiously.  The completion of the work of the Tribunals would prove justice was not an afterthought in promoting international peace and security, but the core of it.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that for more than 22 months, Serbia had failed to execute the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal’s arrest warrants for three Serbian indictees.  He urged the Government of Serbia to return to the path of full compliance with its obligations.  The international tribunals and the International Criminal Court had been created to ensure global justice and responsibility for grave international crimes.  Therefore, the recent trend to suspend cooperation with those tribunals was concerning.  The problem of staff attrition was also of great concern, he said, urging support for the proposals to strengthen the Tribunal’s resources in order to address the potential exodus of highly experienced experts.  He commended the judicial activities of the Mechanism as well as efforts to reduce costs and improve procedures and operations.  “We can’t afford the luxury of forgetting the lessons of history that were learned at a staggering cost of human lives,” he said.

SEIF ALLA YOUSSEF KANDEEL (Egypt) said that by creating the Tribunals, the Council had reaffirmed the principles of justice, and the rule of law and accountability for perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  The Tribunals had made great efforts in guaranteeing fair judicial proceedings and ensuring protection of witnesses.  The Council should support the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal in completing its work and taking advantage of the staff’s experience, while ensuring the appropriate use of financial resources.  International criminal tribunals were an essential instrument to guarantee international law and to punish those responsible for serious crimes against humanity.  Lessons learned should be recorded for the future, as the legacy of the tribunals belonged to the whole of the international community.  The detention of one of the judges of the Residual Mechanism was of concern, he said, expressing the hope that a solution would be found.

ISAÍAS ARTURO MEDINA MEJÍAS (Venezuela) welcomed the work of the Tribunals and the Residual Mechanism in their efforts to administer justice to the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Their work was the reaffirmation of the international community to end impunity.  Welcoming the transfer of the Tribunal’s archives with the Residual Mechanism, he said the Mechanism should enhance its cooperation with States.  While appreciating the cooperation of the Residual Mechanism with Bosnia and Herzegovina, he urged for more cooperation with the other countries in the region.  He underlined support by other States and international organizations to provide access to documents and witnesses, and to ensure the protection of witnesses.  Stressing the importance of the Tribunal to conclude its functions by December 2017, he also welcomed the work of the President of the Mechanism in terms of progress achieved, its effectiveness and its transparency.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said the Tribunals’ legacy would leave a decisive imprint by strengthening international justice.  However, while commending the progress made by the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal, there was concern regarding staff attrition.  A viable solution should be found to allow the Tribunal to complete its mandate.  He urged Serbia to cooperate with the Tribunal by handing over the three indicted individuals and called on other former Yugoslav countries to cooperate.  Regarding the Rwanda Tribunal, he called on States to investigate, arrest, prosecute or extradite all fugitives accused of genocide.  He also took note of the Mechanism’s cooperation with countries of the former Yugoslavia and with Rwanda in keeping authorities updated on its activities, as well as in the provision of assistance to national jurisdictions.  Lastly, he expressed his great concern at the arrest of Judge Akay, appealing to the Turkish Government for his release. 

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, commending the efforts of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal for adapting to the strategy to close down operations.  He also noted his support for the extension of the judges’ mandate for the period of time for which it was requested.  The Residual Mechanism had become a model institution for ensuring transparency and effectiveness.  Transitions to the Mechanism had been very smooth, and the operations of both institutions were satisfactory.  Eight defendants from the Rwanda Tribunal continued to be on the run, which was a very serious problem; all States were urged to provide information on those fugitives’ whereabouts.  Serbia must execute orders of arrest and follow the path of compliance that it had in the past, he said, adding that countries of the region must also continue to investigate and punish pending crimes.  It was essential to have political will toward ensuring the rule of law, and to educate new generations, as well as to promote true reconciliation based on knowledge of the facts.  The work of the Tribunals and the Mechanism had given hope to many victims around the world, demonstrating that justice was possible with political determination and will.

MILOŠ VUKAŠINOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said the legacy of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal was important for the future of international criminal justice.  He encouraged the Tribunal to make every effort to meet the targets of its completion strategy and forecasted delivery dates of judgements in order to avoid any further delays.  For its part, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cooperation with the Tribunal remained steadfast.  Since the beginning, it had fully cooperated with the Tribunal and had implemented all its decisions and rulings.  That support underscored his country’s commitment to the rule of law and sustainable peace.  However, he pointed out that 2017 would not be the expiration date for the pursuit of justice.  The efforts and cooperation of national judicial systems in the region was needed in order to ensure further accountability.

He went on to say that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, judicial systems were being strengthened at all levels in order to bring justice to persons responsible for atrocities.  At the same time, the implementation of a national war crimes strategy continued to improve the consistency of judicial practices throughout the country.  Despite numerous challenges, important results had been achieved, including progress in resolving outstanding Category II cases and in issuing important indictments.  Looking ahead, the Tribunal’s closure did not imply the end of his country’s fight against impunity — a prerequisite for achieving national reconciliation and long-term stability, he said.  Prosecuting war crimes, regardless of national origin or religion, was crucial in helping build a peaceful and prosperous country.

VALENTINE RUGWABIZA (Rwanda) noted that the Rwanda Tribunal had produced a substantial body of jurisprudence, including definitions of the crime of genocide and rape as a weapon of war.  However, she voiced concern about ongoing attempts by genocide perpetrators and their henchmen in media and politics to deny the occurrence of the 1994 genocide committed against the Tutsi.  It was regrettable that none of the remaining indicted fugitives had been arrested in the last five years.  Calling on all Member States, especially those harbouring fugitives, to arrest and put to trial all suspects, or extradite them to where they could be tried, she expressed alarm about the pattern of reducing the sentences of genocide convicts on appeal.

Turning to the matter of the Rwanda Tribunal archives, she expressed concern about the lack of engagement by concerned stakeholders as well as the unilateral decision to store the genocide archives in a specific location without involving Rwanda.  The location of those important pieces of Rwandan history could not be decided merely on the basis of logistical and administrative considerations.  A significant part of the documents, were provided by the Government of her country to the Tribunal for prosecution work.  They legally belonged to Rwanda and must be returned, she emphasized.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal had only convicted two persons for the horrors that took place in the Croatian city of Vukovar, the largest massacre in Europe after World War II.  Such an imbalance between the magnitude of the crime and the justice served was something to bear in mind while evaluating the Tribunal.  It was also important to note that regional cooperation in criminal matters was evolving against the backdrop of conditions vividly described in the reports.  Those circumstances must change in order to pave the way for advanced regional cooperation.  While still struggling with deficiencies, the judiciary in parts of the region appeared to also be increasingly subjected to unwarranted interference in the prosecution of war crimes.  For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there had been significant inconsistences in the prosecutorial approach depending on the nationality of the accused, resulting in different laws being applied in war crimes prosecution.  As a European Union member State with an established track record in prosecuting war crimes, Croatia stood ready to assist its neighbours, he said.

He went on to say that while the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal had irreversibly shaped contemporary international criminal justice and the world’s attitude towards impunity, its work was not yet done and countless victims were still waiting for justice to be served.  In that regard, the final chapter of the Tribunal and the Residual Mechanism must also live up to expectations, particularly in regards to the interpretation and implementation of international and human rights law.  Croatia was considering a proposal developed within the Tribunal for a series of legacy and closing events, he noted, adding that his delegation was ready to take part in those events and engage in discussions on how best to ensure the Tribunal’s lasting legacy.

ČEDOMIR BACKOVIĆ (Serbia) said the willingness of States to cooperate with the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal was a contribution to upholding the rule of law.  Parallel to its cooperation with the Tribunal, his country continued to fight impunity for international crimes through proceedings before its national courts.  His country had handed over 45 defendants to the Tribunal out of the 46 requested and had given the Tribunal’s Prosecutor unfettered access to important evidence located in Serbia.  In addition, Serbia’s commitment to improving the efficiency of domestic war crimes proceedings was evidenced by the obligations that it undertook as per the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes adopted by the Serbian Government earlier in the year.  That commitment was also highlighted by the eight indictments for war crimes against 15 individuals confirmed in Serbia in 2016.  At the same time, accountability for the crimes, regardless of national, ethnic or religious status, remained a priority for his Government.

Notwithstanding the clear legal arguments to the contrary, there had been criticism concerning the non-extradition of three individuals, he acknowledged.  However, the High Court in Belgrade decided that the legal conditions for the executions of the Tribunals’ warrants had not been fulfilled in those cases.  Serbian law on cooperating with the Tribunal closely followed the provisions of the Tribunal’s statute.  Through the adoption and full implementation of the law on cooperation with the Tribunal, Serbia had proved its commitment to prosecuting all crimes that the Security Council had listed in the statute.  More broadly, he underscored that Serbia’s cooperation with the Tribunal was second to none.  His country remained committed to actively contributing to efforts to accomplish the Tribunal’s mission as well as efficiently prosecuting war crimes before domestic courts.  That was the only way to achieve justice for victims, he said, adding that citizens from all the former Yugoslav republics deserved it.

For information media. Not an official record.