HARTFORD, CONN. — The head judge of the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says if the West does not arrest leaders indicted for crimes against humanity in Bosnia within 10 months, he and fellow officials may "pack up and go home."
The remarks by Antonio Cassese, the tribunal president, are the most pointed ever made publicly by a tribunal official and a threat to the Clinton administration and European partners, who have not arrested top indicted war criminals in Bosnia.
Of 74 people indicted for war crimes, only seven are in custody - none of whom are leaders who ordered killings in what the US State Department refers to as a "genocide" in Bosnia.
If arrests aren't made,"we will propose to the Security Council to close down the tribunal," Judge Cassese told a public audience Saturday at a University of Connecticut Law School panel. "This is becoming an exercise in hypocrisy."
Under the Dayton accords, responsibility for arresting war criminals is so widely shared among international, national, and local authorities that no one has done it. But it is widely assumed no arrests will be made without White House backing.
"If the major powers of the world are not consistent and don't make arrests in the next 10 months, we are prepared to pack up and go home," Cassese said. "We think our job is to try leaders, not small fry."
The reference was to Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, who have been twice indicted by the tribunal. Charges include that they ordered the killing of 7,000 Muslim men near Srebrenica last year. The White House, especially before a presidential election, has been reluctant to put US soldiers at further risk in attempting to capture such leaders.
Cassese's remarks, made at the last event in a year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, seemed sparked by a suggestion by US human rights official John Shattuck that tribunal officials "be patient." Mr. Shattuck also quoted a speech by President Clinton from the same event at the University of Connecticut a year ago in which Mr. Clinton said there "can be no peace without justice" in Bosnia, and that this must be achieved "by prosecuting war criminals...."
When asked about Cassese's remarks, Shattuck told the Monitor, "Everyone's patience has a limit. I just don't agree with the idea of setting timetables for these arrests."
Later, Cassese said a 10- to 12-month period was a reasonable amount of time to make arrests.
Whether frank remarks by Cassese were merely unguarded airings to sympathetic legal colleagues, or an attempt to pressure the Clinton administration, is not clear.
In a subsequent conversation with the Monitor, Cassese, a leading scholar of international law at Florence University, said he thought the two-day panel discussion was off the record. But organizers of the event had invited the press to attend.
Tensions at the tribunal are rising. Jurists who idealistically accepted their positions now say that to continue with no leaders in the dock sets a bad precedent. "Judges are getting concerned, and you will see some good people leave next spring if things don't change," says one source close to the tribunal.
On Sept. 18, the tribunal's former chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, blasted Western leaders by saying that if "we cannot do the job we were created to do, then what is the point of keeping it going?" His replacement, Louise Arbour, has spoken publicly of a need for arrests.
But Cassese's remarks go further than those of any official of the United Nations-backed body. Technically, Cassese can't shut down the tribunal. But "If he [Cassese] and other judges resign, it will be awfully difficult for any respectable scholar or jurist to take up the baton," says tribunal expert Thomas Warrick, special counsel to the Coalition for International Justice in Washington.
Goldstone told the Hartford audience that establishing a war crimes tribunal but not arresting war criminals "is either stupid or not serious," and said he felt that "not one [arrest] is going to take place, in my view."
NATO forces are scheduled to be withdrawn from Bosnia by Dec. 20 and replaced by a smaller force.
It is assumed no arrests will be made prior to the US elections Nov. 5. Hence, the period just after the US elections - and before Dec. 20 - is considered a window.
Cassese said Western attempts to placate the tribunal with a new group of "small fry" arrests won't suffice.