UN war crimes tribunal in firing line over acquittals


Dissenting judge claims colleagues’ arguments are grotesque

The United Nations court for crimes committed in the Yugoslav wars is under heavy fire from several sides following its controversial acquittal of two Croatian generals and three former Kosovo rebels.

In the last month, the court quashed the convictions of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and threw out charges against ex-Kosovo guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj and two fellow former fighters. All were accused of committing war crimes against Serb civilians.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the UN, told its Security Council on Wednesday that the rulings “demonstrate neither fairness nor effectiveness” and “discredit the notion of international criminal justice”.

Serb defence minister Aleksandar Vucic announced that Belgrade had scaled back co-operation with the tribunal in anger to the “grotesque” verdicts.

Vucic said the court, since its foundation in 1993, had “convicted a number of former Serbian leaders for war crimes. At the same time, it had failed to convict a single senior official from Croatia or Bosnia and it had failed to convict a single senior Kosovo Albanian official for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

“By the recent judgment the Serbian nation has, therefore, been singled out as the sole perpetrator of such acts, and as the sole people responsible for the terrible violence that engulfed the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.”

While Belgrade and Moscow have long accused the court in The Hague of anti-Serb bias, the recent rulings have also attracted sharp criticism from less familiar quarters. In the Croats’ case, a five-judge appeals panel voted three to two to reject the basis of the initial conviction: that any Croatian shells that landed more than 200 metres from a military target constituted an attack on civilians in the area.

That decision meant that “1,300 pages of analysis are sweepingly reversed in just a few paragraphs”, said one of the dissenting judges, Fausto Pocar. He described some of his colleagues’ arguments as “grotesque” and decried “the sheer volume of errors and misconstructions in the majority’s reasoning. I fundamentally dissent from the entire appeal judgement, which contradicts any sense of justice,” he concluded.

War crimes

The court’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, expressed “disappointment” with the decision and noted that “evidence collected by my office will remain available to judicial authorities in the former Yugoslavia to facilitate national prosecutions” relating to Operation Storm, the offensive in which Croat forces allegedly committed war crimes.

After Haradinaj and his former comrades were acquitted, Kosovo and its ally Albania called for an independent investigation into Brammertz’s high profile predecessor, Carla del Ponte, for pursuing charges that Kosovo’s government called “groundless, tendentious and unlawful”.

Another former UN war crimes prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice, called for an inquiry into why the Haradinaj case went ahead despite their being “insufficient evidence”.

Del Ponte was already unpopular in Kosovo, having suggested that Kosovars trafficked organs from Serb prisoners after their 1998-9 war. An EU task force is investigating those claims.

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