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Tribunal Warns Many War Crime Suspects At Large

UN War Crimes Tribunals Warn Security Council Many Suspects Remain At Large

The United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are striving to complete all of their trials by the Security Council-imposed target date of 2008, but their prosecutors today warned that many indicted suspects remain at large.

During an open meeting of the Council, representatives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said the failure of some Member States to pay their contributions had jeopardized their ability to meet their workload on schedule.

The two tribunals, set up by the UN to try people suspected of committing war crimes during the 1990s, have been told by the Council to do all they can to meet the completion strategy mapped out in previous Council resolutions.

That strategy calls for the tribunals to finish their investigations by the end of this year, complete all trials at the first instance by 2008 and wind up all their work by the end of 2010.

ICTY's President, Judge Theodor Meron, told the Council today that the court is operating at full capacity and has amended some rules of evidence and procedure in a bid to meet its schedule.

The Council has previously suggested to both tribunals that they review their caseloads to decide which cases they should proceed with and which cases they should transfer to the domestic justice systems of appropriate countries.

But Judge Meron said he had doubts that the domestic courts of Croatia or Serbia and Montenegro could conduct "credible war crimes trials," citing concerns about the impartiality of some Croatian judges as one reason.

ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte criticized the failure of authorities in Serbia and Montenegro and in the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina to arrest the 20 indicted figures who remain at large.

These fugitives include former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic and former Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina.

Ms. Del Ponte said Croatian authorities had become more cooperative with the ICTY, and she expected them to locate General Gotovina soon and transfer him to the court's custody in The Hague.

But she said Serbia and Montenegro "has become a safe haven for fugitives," with at least 15 accused - including General Mladic - believed to be at large there. Belgrade has not cooperated with the Tribunal since December.

ICTR's President, Judge Erik Møse, said his court had lifted the number of judges who could hear cases and was building a fourth courtroom as it strived to meet the Council target of 2008.

But Judge Møse said some nations had not paid their dues and were thus threatening to undermine the ICTR's ability to meet the deadlines.

ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Jallow said 15 suspects remain at large, with many located in the eastern part of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

He said the court faced real challenges in staying on schedule, pointing out that the number of people remaining to be tried by the ICTR between now and 2008 is greater than the number whose cases have been completed.

But he said the ICTR had introduced several administrative and procedural reforms to make it more flexible and efficient at handling cases, including those with multiple defendants.

During the debate that followed, Council delegates stressed the importance of encouraging neighbouring States to cooperate with the two tribunals to hand over suspects and take on some of the caseload in their domestic courts.

Some delegates also suggested that while the Council's completion strategy was designed to ensure the tribunals did not operate indefinitely, it was not meant to impose unbreakable cut-off dates.

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