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Statement to the Press by Carla Del Ponte, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Press Release
(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)
The Hague, 20 December 2000

Statement to the Press by Carla Del Ponte, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Please find below the full text of the Prosecutor’s statement to the press on 20 December 2000 in The Hague:

Since this is the last press briefing of the year 2000 I would like to take a few minutes to look back over what we have achieved this year and spend some time looking forward to next year.

Those of you who follow the work of the Tribunal regularly will have seen that 2000 was a busy year in which we saw a great deal of activity – in the field, in the courts, and in the political situation in the Balkans. The fall of Milosevic from power has marked a turning point in the region, but the impact is only now beginning to affect my Office. The first step will be the re-opening of our office in Belgrade. Already a team from The Hague has visited Belgrade, and we believe with the help of the authorities in the FRY that we have identified suitable premises. The authorities have been helpful in this respect, and I would like to see our new office established early in 2001. I plan to travel to Belgrade in the new year, and I hope once the elections are over and the political situation has settled down again that I will be able to meet President Kostunica before long.

With regards to the interview given yesterday by President Kostunica on the need for all the countries of the region to bring the justice process back home, I would like to say the following:

President Kostunica would be right if the world were a perfect place, but unfortunately it is not.

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t have taken 10 years for democratic Chile to start prosecuting Pinochet – and only as a result of unique circumstances, external pressure and yet with highly unlikely results. In a perfect world, we could also ask the Republika Srpska authorities in Pale to judge Karadzic and Mladic – why should they be denied that "right" if Belgrade is allowed to have Milosevic and others tried at home?

President Kostunica may be able to prosecute Milosevic for embezzlement or electoral fraud. Nevertheless, Yugoslavia is not and - for many years - will not be in a position to hold a fair trial of Milosevic for the charges brought, and to be brought, by this Tribunal. The reasons for this are many:

First of all, the Tribunal has a clear mandate and enjoys primacy over domestic courts. This was and remains the will of the United Nations Security Council, as well as of the international community as a whole.

So far, the Milosevic establishment has very much remained in place; changes at the top – maybe – can be expected for the post 23 December period. But what we see for the time being is that key individuals of the Milosevic regime continue to count on the new Yugoslav President’s trust.

The discussion in Belgrade tends to focus on Serbia proper as a victim of Milosevic. Indeed, the Serbian people had to endure the duress of Milosevic’s policies and of its consequences. But what about the other victims? Bosnjaks, Kosovo Albanians, Croats among others? Those hundreds of thousands of people who fell prey to barbarian warfare, ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, etc. Beyond obvious and founded concerns for their security, has anyone thought of how they will react when asked to go to Belgrade to testify? How can justice in the FRY – which for decades has been nothing but an instrument in the hands of the powerful – establish any credibility?

The whole raison d’être of international justice is precisely to tackle those difficult, painful cases for which domestic courts are ill-equipped. All defendants, witnesses and victims must enjoy the same extensive rights in court – regardless of their respective position with regards to the State. International justice is required whenever and wherever the absolute independence of the judiciary cannot be granted, for political or other reasons.

It is not an easy task for a Government to face the shadows of the national recent past. It takes courage and a real commitment to justice. I expect the international community to help President Kostunica understand and accept this – if he is sincerely committed to laying the basis of a new democratic and peaceful Yugoslavia.

Before the end of this year some of you may have been expecting me to announce a new indictment against Slobodan Milosevic. I am not in a position to do that today, but I can repeat to you what I have said before – the existing indictment does not represent the full extent of our work on the activities of the former President. Our investigations into his involvement in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also into further events in Kosovo, continue – with a view to presenting broader and deeper charges than those on the present indictment. But whatever form the final charges take, my position remains unchanged, that Milosevic and all other indictees in the FRY must stand trial in The Hague. To that end I am pursuing investigations of the financial assets of the accused. I would like to see the money in their bank accounts frozen, and one day made available as compensation to victims. This matter has been raised with the Security Council.

You will also have seen recent publicity about our relations with Croatia, and you will know that the question of the co-operation of the authorities in Zagreb is once again the subject of open debate. Part of the reason this subject has become the focus of attention now is that the trial of Dario Kordic came to an end last week. It was a case which highlighted the need for urgent co-operation. Important Croatian documents had been ordered as evidence, and time had run out for their production to the Trial Chamber. By the close of the proceedings many key documents had been made available. Some played an important part in proving the case, but others arrived too late and without proper authentication by witnesses, so that the Judges were not prepared to receive them into evidence.

The case revealed that there are still difficulties in certain areas of Croatian co-operation. I hoped that these had been resolved after my earlier meetings with Mr. Granic, and I was disappointed to see the subject of co-operation being politicized again in the Croatian media. The Croatian authorities may have their own views on the work of this Tribunal. They may have criticisms of what my office is doing and what priorities I am setting. But these are decisions for me, not for Croatia, and they cannot make their co-operation conditional on their approval of our investigations and prosecutions. Croatia’s international obligations stem not from their internal definition under domestic law, but from the Statute of the Tribunal, from the Security Council, and Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. We should not lose sight of that fact, nor should we allow the situation to turn into a debate in the media. I believe that if we are serious about finding solutions, the difficulties in this sensitive area must be addressed in private in face to face meetings, not in the newspapers, and I am ready to continue our dialogue next year. I hope that in this way, all remaining obstacles can be removed.

We have also seen political changes in Republika Srpska, and I am waiting to establish relations with the newly-elected authorities there. It is perhaps too early to tell how our relations will develop, but we still have much work to do in BiH. Last year we estimated that we had a further four years of investigations to carry out before our mandate would be completed. We are on track to continue investigations until the end of 2004, and nothing has caused us to revise that estimate. My policy of seeking sealed indictments will also continue, and copies of arrest warrants will be passed to SFOR as they have been in the past.

In Kosovo you will not see further exhumations next year on the scale of the last two years. You may already have seen some of the figures. Our forensic program has been successfully completed. This year our teams examined 325 mass grave sites, and exhumed 1,577 complete bodies and partial remains in a further 258 cases. Our pathologists conducted a total of 1,807 autopsies. You realize that an accurate estimate of the numbers of people killed in Kosovo cannot be given from the forensic work alone, but over the two years of our exhumation program we have found the remains of some 4,000 victims.

Next year our exhumation work will be much reduced in volume, but we do plan to continue scientific work at sites in BiH and Croatia. This year in BiH and Croatia we looked at eight sites, and found the remains of approximately 500 victims. Next year that work will go on at new sites.

In The Hague you have seen very full trial programme this year, with some major prosecutions, like the Krstic and Kordic trials, now in their closing stages. In addition to the five cases you have been following this year, eight more cases are either ready for trial or being prepared for trial for the first half of 2001. Next year in the Galic case we will see the first evidence being led about events in Sarajevo itself, and the Krajisnik trial will be the first case to focus on the top levels of the Bosnian Serb leadership. These cases will substantially broaden the range of prosecutions before the Tribunal.

I would therefore encourage you to keep following our work as you have been doing this year. I am sure that next year will be a very interesting one in the life of the Tribunal, and that you will see our activity increase with the arrival of more Judges and the start of more trials. I thank you for all the coverage and the commentary you have given to our work over the past 12 months, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I will be pleased to answer any questions you have.