The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: An Exercise in Law, Politics, and Diplomacy

By Rachel Kerr | Go to book overview

7 'First Catch Your Criminal': Obtaining Custody of Accused

It is obvious and fundamental that the Tribunal could not function properly until it was able to obtain custody of accused. Before you can put anyone on trial, you must 'first catch your criminal'. 1 However, the Tribunal did not have a police force able to carry out arrests; it had to rely on States and other bodies to perform that function. In the first place, the obligation was on national governments to comply with orders of the Tribunal, including execution of arrest warrants, and for the most part the national authorities of the Republics of the former Yugoslavia, and the respective authorities of the Serb and Croat entities of Bosnia and Hercegovina, had primary responsibility to detain and transfer accused, since that is where most of the indictees were located. However, with very few exceptions, the record was fairly dire.

As discussed in Chapter 6 , the Tribunal may refer non-compliance to the Security Council; but this was not a particularly effective means of enforcing cooperation. More effective was the exertion of diplomatic and political pressure by the president and, more forcefully, the Prosecutor of the Tribunal, but only a handful of accused were surrendered. In order to function, therefore, it was imperative that the Tribunal seek alternative means of obtaining custody, such as transmission of arrest warrants to all States and execution of arrest warrants by other entities such as INTERPOL and SFOR.

The turning point for the Tribunal was in June-July 1997, when the first arrests by international forces took place in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The practical impact of this was enormous, not only because the Tribunal could start operating, but also because it provided an opportunity to remove troublesome individuals. It was also highly symbolic. It was an important indicator of the international community's commitment

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