War Crimes Law Comes of Age: Essays

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

XV
Answering for War Crimes Lessons from the Balkans

In the fall of 1997 the judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will complete their four-year terms. If top and mid- level leaders indicted by the tribunal have not been arrested and delivered to The Hague by then, Antonio Cassese, the tribunal's president, has threatened to propose that the Security Council terminate the tribunal's mandate.1 Cassese's warning echoes similar calls for top-level arrests from former chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone, justice of the South African Constitutional Court, and Louise Arbour, his successor from the Ontario Court of Appeals. Their frustration underscores the need for a careful evaluation of the tribunal's record and prospects.

The U.N. Security Council established the tribunal on May 25, 1993, when it adopted the Statute of the International Tribunal proposed by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The council created the tribunal in response to the deliberate, systematic, and outrageous violations of human rights and humanitarian norms committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Atrocities committed include summary executions, torture, rape, arbitrary mass internment, deportation and displacement, hostage-taking, inhuman treatment of prisoners, indiscriminate shelling of cities, and unwarranted destruction of private property. Of the 74 persons indicted for such atrocities, one has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to ten years imprisonment, five are currently in custody awaiting trial, and one -- Dusan Tadić, a Bosnian Serb accused of committing abuses against Muslims in the Omarska concentration camp in Bosnia -- is now standing trial. None of the seven, however, are top political or military leaders who gave the key orders. The absence of such leaders among those in custody has led Cassese to assert that the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina reached at Dayton in November 1995 "is becoming an exercise in hypocrisy."

The tribunal's original purpose was to assign guilt for war crimes to the individual perpetrators and the leaders responsible, rather than allowing

____________________
1
The tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia share two organs: the prosecution and the appeals chamber. These organs will continue to exist even after the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia completes its business. The Security Council may thus have to amend the tribunals' statutes accordingly.

-278-

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