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Statement by Justice Louise Arbour, Prosecutor of the ICTY during her visit to Zagreb, Croatia.

Press Release PROSECUTOR

(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)

The Hague, 20 July 1999
TH/ P.I.S./ 420-e

Statement by Justice Louise Arbour, Prosecutor of the ICTY during her visit to Zagreb, Croatia

Yesterday I had meetings with Minister of Justice Separovic and Foreign Minister Granic. The main object of our discussion was my grave concern about the level of cooperation my office has been receiving from the Croatian authorities.

I first asked the Minister of Justice to explain to me the Government's position on cooperation with the Tribunal, particularly in light of the recent publication in the press of a document suggesting that the Committee for Cooperation was in fact actively devising a strategy to delay or defeat certain of our key investigations. The Minister informed me that this document was merely a reflection of internal discussions and did not reflect the Government's position. The official position of the Government, he assured me, was one of cooperation, as reflected in the Resolution of the House of Representatives of 5 March 1999.

Nevertheless, I drew the attention of both Ministers to a long list of our requests for assistance that remain unanswered. I put it to them that for some considerable time now Croatia in fact has not been discharging its obligation to cooperate with the Tribunal in a satisfactory manner, and explained to them that I consider that I now have no option but to request the President of the ICTY to report the situation to the Security Council.

On 22 June 1999, I presented to Croatia a consolidated Request for Assistance, representing many outstanding unanswered inquiries, some going back to 1996, and renewed many times. I requested an answer within three weeks, and was informed yesterday that it may be a few months before I am provided with some answers. Other answers, I was told, would not be provided because they relate to Operation Storm, or involve matters of national security, or would be offensive to the dignity of the Croatian people, or would require turning over all of Croatia's military archives.

Without exposing publicly all the information sought so as not to compromise any of these investigations, I wish to give examples of these outstanding requests for information:

On 12 November 1996, I requested a copy of the inventory of documents captured by Croatian forces from the ‘RSK’ during Operation Storm and Operation Thunder.

On 1 May 1998, I requested details of casualties admitted to Knin Hospital during 4 to 6 August 1995.

On 2 June 1998, I requested copies of reports, photographs or other documentation of the Croatian authorities in relation to the 51 dead bodies in the Medak Pocket area handed over to the ‘RSK’ authorities in September 1993.

More significantly, on 25 November 1997, I requested all police files, investigative magistrate reports, trial transcripts etc. of proceedings held in absentia against General Perisic and 18 other JNA officers in Zadar. This request was never responded to, although it was renewed 16 times by representatives of my office.

For Croatia to complain about the Tribunal instead of complying with its international obligations is reminiscent of the conduct of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), and, in my view, is no more than a convenient way to evade those obligations. The International Tribunal is a subsidiary organ of the Security Council of the United Nations. For a member state of the United Nations, compliance with the ICTY does not involve any diminishing of national sovereignty. The Tribunal is a judicial body. Under our statute, the Prosecutor is independent and does not seek or receive instructions from any government or any other source. I have therefore informed the Minister that I am entitled as a matter of law to full cooperation, and to adequate responses to all requests that I have made, including those relating to Operation Storm.

The Government re-stated its position that my Office does not have jurisdiction to investigate crimes related to Operation Storm – on the basis that the Operation Storm action did not take amount to an armed conflict. In legal terms, this argument is identical to the one presented by the FRY over Kosovo earlier this year. In my view, there is no legal merit in either argument. I any event, the issue is one for the Judges of the Tribunal. It cannot be simply asserted unilaterally by Croatia as an argument to defeat my investigative requests. This has been made clear by the decision of the President of the Tribunal to report to the Security Council the non-compliance of the FRY in relation to my Kosovo investigations.

With respect to Operation Storm, I want to make clear that the legality, the legitimacy of the Operation itself is not the issue. Even in a just war, or in a fully justified military operation, the laws of war must be respected. Brutal abuse of civilians, for instance, is not permissible in any military context. I am required to investigate whether crimes were committed during Operation Storm, not whether the Operation itself was a criminal act.

I also raised the question of the delays in transferring indicted accused to The Hague. I was told by the Minister that the Government’s position now is that they will not consider the transfer of two particular accused, Vinko Martinovic (Stela) and Mladen Naletilic (Tuta) to the Tribunal until they have served their sentences in full. As I understand the situation this would mean that Stela would not be transferred to The Hague until he has completed serving an eight-year sentence in Croatia. This is of course again contrary to the principle of primacy of the ICTY over national courts. I therefore urged the Minister to review this surprising decision, which also seems inconsistent with a recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court of Croatia.

For all these reasons, I therefore informed the Ministers yesterday that upon my return to The Hague, I would prepare a request to the President of the Tribunal, asking her to report Croatia’s non-cooperation to the Security Council. I also told the Ministers that I would be prepared to withdraw from that initiative if they urgently respond to all my outstanding requests. I did consider it fair to give the Government notice of my intention.

I, and the whole Office of the Prosecutor in The Hague, continue to be committed to ensuring that justice is done to all victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, including Croatian victims. There are many cases that we will not be able to investigate and prosecute ourselves, and we must turn to national courts to carry out fair and even-handed criminal prosecutions for war crimes. We will support those who do.

I am sorry that my last visit to Croatia as Prosecutor should be to deliver this message to the Government. As you may know, on my first visit to this country, before I had formally taken office, I travelled to Vukovar. I saw for myself the mass grave of the victims of the massacre at Ovcara. That site was the first to be the subject of exhumation and forensic examination by my office. The accused Slavko Dokmanovic was the first person to be arrested by international forces on a sealed indictment. A great deal of effort was subsequently put into the prosecution of those charges before the Tribunal, and it was only because the accused committed suicide shortly beforehand that no judgement could be delivered in that case. That was a matter of great regret to me. It made it all the more important that the co-accused in that case are brought to trial for those crimes. I thereafter took every initiative open to me to ensure that those accused were surrendered for trial in The Hague, culminating in reporting the situation to the Security Council. I therefore find it ironic and extremely disappointing that I should now have to set in motion that same process in respect of the Government of Croatia.



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