Tribunal Chief 'Less Pessimistic' on Bosnia Trials

World outrage at war crimes committed by Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs since 1991 led the United Nations to create the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

So far, the Tribunal has indicted 74 individuals. It remains far from putting the top war criminals in the dock. Only seven persons are in custody. Yesterday, the first trial, that of Bosnian Serb policeman Dusko Tadic, reopened.

Antonio Cassese, an Italian law professor and the Tribunal's president, shared his views with Monitor contributor Lauren Comiteau at The Hague in the Netherlands.

On the purpose of the Tribunal:

Symbolically, it's to bring to justice those authors of crimes that are so appalling that international justice must be accomplished. And a signal can be sent to all dictators, future perpetrators of similar crimes, that if they go on and commit atrocious crimes, they may be brought to trial and be held accountable for what they did ....

Another role is educational ... to establish ... based on judicial evidence, a record of what happened in the former Yugoslavia so that the population of those areas, as well as future generations, may become aware of the misdeeds which were committed.

On the Tribunal's impartiality:

We must be terribly careful and be unbiased. So therefore, this is also our objective. And actually we have an opportunity ... to be impartial and objective because none of the 11 judges had anything to do with ... what happened in the former Yugoslavia. Whereas ... in the Nuremberg [Trial after World War II], the judges had been appointed by the four victorious powers.

I would respond to the Serb and Russian allegations that so far the prosecution, and to some extent the Tribunal as a whole, has taken an anti-Serb attitude ... this is totally wrong and the only reason why most of our indictees are Serbs or Bosnian Serbs is because so far [Serb authorities have not] cooperated by giving evidence concerning crimes committed against Serbs or Bosnian Serbs.

Recently, they have understood our message and they have started cooperating, and ... sooner or later indictments will be produced against the Croats and Muslims.

On the delays in apprehending those who have been indicted by the Tribunal:

To some extent it is frustrating to see that ... nothing has materialized so far. But I'm confident that in the next few months, [the NATO-led peace implementation force] will ... apprehend at least some of the major indictees and surrender them to us.

On bringing top alleged war criminals to justice:

I think we should not polarize our attention on [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and [Gen. Ratko] Mladic.

I think it's unfortunate that the media are only speaking about those two people. There are other major indictees in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina - in particular in the Croatian part of that Federation. Notably, [Dario] Kordic, who is a leading politician there, and Rajic [Ivica], who has been also accused by our prosecutor of committing serious and horrific crimes....

And one day the prosecutor might indict people who are even at a higher level.

It goes without saying they all enjoy, including, of course, Karadzic, Mladic, Kordic ... a presumption of innocence until they are found guilty - if they are found guilty. They are presumed to be innocent. I very much stress this point.

But of course we would like to go beyond [the indictments] and ... have proper trials, because it is only through a proper trial that we can weigh up the evidence and see whether they are guilty or innocent.

If we manage to have trials against those people, we would be able to regard our mission accomplished. Why? Because I think our Tribunal has been set up not to try minor figures, small fries, but those who have planned, organized, orchestrated war crimes.

On war crimes committed as a matter of policy:

[O]ur Tribunal should concentrate on what we in international law call "system criminality" - namely those crimes which are not committed out of the vicious inclinations of individuals [but] on those crimes [that] are part and parcel of a policy: mass rape, rape for the purpose of bringing about ethnic cleansing, mass killing of civilians, large-scale ill-treatment of prisoners of war, killing or sniping of civilians for the purpose of spreading terror in a town or in a village, and so on.

Now this category of crimes, which I would call a manifestation of system criminality, [has] one particular feature: namely, they are carried out with consent - acquiescence - of the leaders or they may even be the results of orders and planning of the leaders.

For those crimes, I think both those who are in command and those who have actually perpetrated those crimes should be brought to trial.

On the significance of the Tribunal:

The major impact our Tribunal has had on the international community relates to the setting up of the Rwanda Tribunal and also the possibility of promoting and speeding up the process for the establishment of a permanent [international] criminal court.

On public opinion:

We can't afford to attach any importance to public opinion ... to be influenced by either public opinion or politicians as far as the timing of indictments or trials is concerned....

By contrast, we attach a lot of importance to public opinion for the fulfillment of the educational role of our proceedings. It is through the media that we can cast some light on what happened and establish a record for posterity and for present and future generations. In this respect, the media would be of tremendous importance and public opinion must be our main target, the beneficiary, or recipient, [of our work].

On being optimistic about the Tribunal's work:

I'm not yet an optimist, but I'm increasingly less pessimistic. When we started off almost three years ago, we had nothing, we had to start from scratch. There was so much skepticism.... But gradually, we have set up a Tribunal, which is now working .... We have accomplished a lot. Of course, it's not enough. To really fulfill our mission we have to go much further, to reach a stage where we can bring to trial some of the major leaders and to dispense justice in a proper way. The risk for us is that we will not attain the high and lofty goals we have set for ourselves - namely, to do justice with regard to some high leaders.

For the time being, we have reached a stage where we can no longer fear to end up in a total fiasco .... However, since our goals are very high, I don't know whether we will attain them.

I'm pretty confident that in one or two years time, we may be really successful. I think the international community is now taking our Tribunal seriously and is prepared to support us and to put a lot of pressure on one or two of those crucial countries [that] should cooperate by arresting [indictees] living [within their borders].

On the Tribunal's role in preserving peace in the former Yugoslavia:

Honestly, I don't think that the Tribunal can, by itself - by its role bringing people to trial - totally remove the hatred, resentment, and animosity existing in the former Yugoslavia because it is so embedded, so deep-rooted there. It is one of the various means - tools - for the eradication of this hatred, but it's a long, gradual process. However, in this process, I think the Tribunal is one of the indispensable ingredients for ... bringing about some sort of reconciliation.

But to achieve that purpose many other factors are necessary - training, re-education, dialogue, and economic factors ....

We should not be too impatient and we should not be so naive to think that at a stroke you can achieve a solution. We need a lot of patience and perseverance. And through all this, with a huge spectrum of tools and efforts, we may probably one day achieve something in the former Yugoslavia.

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