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Address Of Judge Theodor Meron, President Of The International Criminal Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia, To The United Nations General Assembly


Press Release . Communiqué de presse
(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)


The Hague, 10 October 2003

Address Of Judge Theodor Meron, President Of The International Criminal Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia, To The United Nations General Assembly

Please find below the full text of the statement made by Judge Theodor Meron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, to the United Nations General Assembly on 9 October 2003.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address this distinguished Assembly to present the tenth annual report of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Let me first express my profound gratitude for the support you have always afforded the Tribunal.

I would also like to pay tribute to the wisdom and dedication of my predecessor as President of the Tribunal, Claude Jorda of France.  Judge Jorda served as President of the Tribunal during much of the period upon which I report to you today.

That period, August 2002 to July 2003, has been one of great progress and accomplishment for the Tribunal.  Our Trial Chambers and Appeals Chamber have heard more cases than ever before.  An increasing number of defendants have decided to plead guilty, express remorse for their crimes, and offer assistance to the Prosecution in other cases.  A significant number of important offenders against international humanitarian law have been brought to justice.  In pursuance of our strategy to bring the work of the Tribunal to a close in a timely and equitable fashion, we have continued to undertake internal reforms designed to improve the efficiency of our proceedings while scrupulously respecting international norms of due process and fair trial.  And we have moved ahead with efforts to enable our Tribunal to refer certain cases of mid- and lower-level offenders to courts in the States of the former Yugoslavia, especially the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Still, much work remains to be done.  We need to do even more to improve the efficiency of our proceedings.  We must move forward at full speed with efforts to assist the establishment of national courts in the region of the former Yugoslavia that are capable of hearing cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide fairly and without the taint of ethnic, religious, or national prejudice.  We must step up our efforts to ensure that the peoples of the former Yugoslavia receive a balanced and honest account of the work of the Tribunal.  And we must push for complete cooperation from all member States, and especially from States of the former Yugoslavia, in seeing that justice is done for the thousands and thousands of victims of the Yugoslav conflicts who lost lives, loved ones, property, and physical and emotional well-being.  

1.    Some of the year’s leading accomplishments

Let me begin by reviewing with you some of the Tribunal’s central accomplishments during the year past.  

The pace of the Tribunal’s activities has reached an all-time high.  The Tribunal continues to honour the commitments it made to the Security Council and, with morning and afternoon sessions in its three courtrooms, its Trial Chambers conduct between four and six trials at a time.  During the year in review, they examined 29 merits cases (as well as three cases of contempt) and rendered four final judgments on the merits or sentencing judgments. The trial of Slobodan Milošević, former head of State of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, continued before Trial Chamber III.  The defendant’s health has led to a great number of delays, and it is an extraordinarily complex case.  It brings together what had been three separate indictments, for Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia, with 66 counts, hundreds of witnesses, tens of thousands of pages of documents, most of which must be translated from Serbo-Croatian into French and English, the Tribunal’s working languages.  But the Prosecution’s case is coming to a close soon, and the timetable for the defense case has begun to be established.  The Appeals Chamber too has disposed of a greater number of appeals than in years past.  During the period under consideration, the Appeals Chamber disposed of 36 interlocutory appeals, two requests for review, and two contempt proceedings, and handed down one judgement on the merits.

The Trial Chambers also received an increasing number of guilty pleas resulting from plea agreements, including from Biljana Plavsić, former Co-President of the Republika Srpska.  A total of 15 defendants have now pleaded guilty at the ICTY.  I recognize that because of the heinous nature of the crimes charged before the ICTY, and because the Tribunal’s roles include providing some vindication for victims and contributing to the creation of an accurate record of terrible atrocities, some are hesitant about a too frequent resort to plea agreements.  These concerns are certainly understandable and legitimate.  But I believe that, with properly detailed acknowledgement by defendants of their participation in the crimes for which they acknowledge guilt and genuine expressions of remorse, plea agreements can play a constructive role.  In some cases, a forthright and specific acknowledgement of guilt may offer victims as much, or even more, consolation than would a conviction following repeated protestations of innocence.  Moreover, as a practical matter, the cooperation secured through plea agreements, which of course are not binding on the courts, plays an important role in securing convictions of more important participants in large-scale crimes, and the time and resources saved by avoiding trials in some cases contributes significantly to the Tribunal’s ability to meet the timelines indicated by the Security Council for the completion of its work.

    With those deadlines in mind, the Tribunal has worked hard this past year to advance its completion strategy, a plan of internal reforms and external initiatives designed to enable the Tribunal to finish its work within the deadlines set by the Security Council.

    Internally, we have undertaken a series of judicially initiated reforms designed to improve the efficiency of our proceedings.  The most important of these was the removal of the ban on ad litem judges adjudicating in pre-trial matters. At my urging (and in accord with an earlier recommendation by my predecessor, Judge Jorda), the Security Council on 19 May 2003 unanimously adopted resolution 1481 (2003), amending the Tribunal’s Statute to permit ad litem judges to undertake pre-trial work.  This reform enables ad litem judges to make more efficient use of their time and to enhance their already important contribution to the work of the Tribunal, thus helping the Tribunal to bring cases to completion more expeditiously.

    At plenary meetings in December 2002 and July 2003, the Judges adopted a number of amendments to the Tribunal’s rules of procedure designed to improve efficiency.  One revises the methods for permitting continuation of trials when one of the judges hearing the case is unable to continue, reducing the likelihood of mistrials and retrials.  Another gives trial chambers enhanced authority to restrict the scope of the prosecution’s case, thus avoiding the presentation of duplicative and unnecessarily time-consuming evidence.

    Externally, the past year has seen a major advance for the completion strategy through the advancement of a plan to create a special War Crimes Chamber in the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Establishment of the War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo will provide a forum to which the Tribunal may transfer a number of cases of lower- and mid-level accused.  In anticipation of the Chamber’s creation, the ICTY judges amended Rule 11 bis at a special plenary in September 2002 to set out the criteria that must be satisfied before a case may be referred to a domestic court once an indictment has been confirmed.
Then, after months of negotiations, President Jorda in February 2003 entered into an agreement with the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) for the establishment of the new chamber.  I twice had the honour to address the steering board of the Peace Implementation Council, urging them to endorse the project, and they did so in June 2003.  In August, in resolution 1503 the Security Council added its imprimatur.  A donors’ conference will be held on the 30th of this month at the Tribunal in The Hague, and a series of working groups composed of personnel from the OHR, the ICTY, and other interested organizations will develop the detailed policies needed to get the War Crimes Chamber running.
2.    Looking forward: the year ahead and beyond

While the completion strategy has made major strides in the past year, I look forward to equally important developments in the year ahead.

First, as the Security Council made clear in resolution 1503, the completion strategy requires further focusing the Tribunal’s mission on trying the most significant offenders against international public order.  The Prosecutor, of course, possesses the authority to select the individuals who will be charged before the Tribunal.  Thus, it is primarily the Prosecutor’s responsibility to ensure compliance with the Security Council’s direction that the Tribunal “concentrat[e] on the prosecution and trial of the most senior leaders suspected of being most responsible for crimes within the ICTY’s jurisdiction.”

While we are striving in every way possible to meet the goals of completing all trials by the end of 2008 and all appeals by the end of 2010, one cannot predict the completion date of judicial proceedings with scientific accuracy.  Many factors may affect the outcome.  Some of those influences are within the control of the Tribunal, others not, and of the former some are within the control of the judges and others within the power of the Prosecutor.

I am happy to report that we should be able to complete the trials of all individuals currently in the custody of the Tribunal (including those on provisional release) within the 2008 deadline, both individuals whose trials have already begun and individuals who are in pre-trial proceedings.

Already confirmed indictments cover an additional 17 individuals who are at large.  The sooner fugitives are turned in, the greater the number of guilty pleas received, or the greater the number of cases that can be transferred to Sarajevo, the sooner we will be able to finish the trials of these cases.

The handing over of fugitives, of course, is outside the Tribunal’s control.  It depends above all on the cooperation of the States of the former Yugoslavia.  I join my predecessors in urging this Assembly to press all Member States to cooperate fully and promptly with the Tribunal’s work.  I have recently travelled to Belgrade on the first ever official visit by the Tribunal’s President, and I am encouraged by an emerging spirit of cooperation with the Tribunal.  But much remains to be done – on arrests of fugitives, access to evidence, and facilitation of witness testimony, especially by present and former officials.

I must tell you that – based on our present projections – it will not be possible to accommodate any new indictments within the timeframe indicated by the Council.  I say this recognizing that it is the Prosecutor’s prerogative to select the individuals against whom she will file indictments, and recognizing that if the Prosecution has sufficient evidence to make a prima facie case, we judges must confirm the indictments.  One thing must be clear, however:  once indictments have been submitted and confirmed by the judges, the legal process will have started, and will have to run its course, in accordance with the governing law and the demands of due process.  A strict application of the target dates for the completion strategy must not result in impunity particularly for the most senior leaders suspected of being most responsible for the crimes within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Second, as I noted a moment ago, with respect to the Sarajevo War Crimes Chamber, we are moving from plans to action.  We should be able to begin transferring some cases by early 2005 at the latest.

Third, we are continuing to search for ways to streamline our procedures.  I have revitalized a committee of judges called the Judicial Practices Working Group, giving it a mandate to develop and analyze proposals to shorten trials and speed the hearing of appeals.  The Prosecutor has recently circulated a group of proposals with the same goal in mind, and the judges are actively considering and reshaping a number of them.  The Rules Committee of the judges has some of these proposals under active consideration.  The Committee will recommend a package of reforms aimed at improving the rules of disclosure, pre-trial management, and presentation of evidence to the judges’ regular plenary meeting in December.  The purpose is to balance the interests of the Prosecutor and the accused so that the task of the former is manageable while the rights of the latter to a fair trial remain protected.

Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 10 years ago, the Security Council created the ICTY with the goal of bringing an end to impunity for mass atrocities and serious violations of international humanitarian law.  During that decade, with the constant support of this Assembly, the Tribunal has made a fundamental and lasting contribution to bringing justice to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia by bringing to account a considerable number of accused of high rank.

Ensuring that justice is done requires skilful work not only of the Tribunal’s judges but also of its staff.  Particularly as the completion of the Tribunal’s work comes into sight, it will be more and more difficult to retain and attract staff of the highest calibre unless opportunities for advancement are made available.  The creation of additional criminal jurisdictions creates additional pressure in this regard.  I hope the members of this Assembly, and of the Security Council, will recognize the importance of this issue and support our proposals to address it.

If we are to complete our mission in a timely fashion, we must have the support not only of this Assembly as a collectivity but also of each and every one of its members, especially the States of the former Yugoslavia.  Fugitives must be arrested, above all Radovan Karad`ić and Ratko Mladić, as well as Ante Gotovina.  Evidence must be turned over promptly.  Only then will the Tribunal be able to complete the important mission assigned to it by the Security Council a decade ago.