UN Urged to Probe Hague Tribunal Controversy

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Balkan rights activists have asked the UN to investigate alleged political influences on recent Hague Tribunal acquittals after controversial allegations by one of the court’s judges.

Scores of human rights organisations, journalists and legal experts wrote to the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday calling for a probe into allegations made by a Hague judge in a leaked letter in which he criticised the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

“We ask you, due to the absence of [relevant] procedures in the ICTY’s statute, to use your authority and order an immediate and thorough investigation which will determine whether there has been a violation of articles 12 and 13 of the ICTY statute which guarantee the independence of the judges, their impartiality, integrity and high moral virtues,” said the appeal to the UN.

“Without this investigation and the public presentation of the results, suspicion about fairness of the verdicts of the ICTY will permanently mark the work of this important institution of international law,” it continued.

The letter to the UN secretary-general was supported by over 100 non-governmental organisations and individuals in the region including BIRN.

Frederik Harhoff, a Danish judge at the ICTY, a court set up by the UN, became the centre of controversy after his private letter criticising the recent acquittals of Serbian and Croatian wartime commanders was leaked and published by international media earlier this month.

Harhoff wrote that he had heard that the Tribunal’s president Theodor Meron allegedly put pressure on other judges to approve the acquittals in recent months of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, Yugoslav general Momcilo Perisic and Serbian security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.

The Tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz said on Monday that his office would not be commenting on the email, but added he was “concerned about destructive elements in the debate that has followed the letter’s publication”.

He added that the Hague court must “make allowance for valid criticism” and use the constructive aspects of the debate generated by the letter as a springboard for strengthening its processes.

“Our key objective is to see the ICTY, through its remaining work, convincingly demonstrate the legitimacy of its processes, the high quality of its verdicts and its capacity to secure justice for victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia,” said the chief prosecutor.

However one lawyer for a Bosniak war crimes convict has already asked for his sentence to be quashed because of the “bias” revealed by Harhoff’s letter.

The lawyer for former Bosnian Army commander Rasim Delic, who was jailed by the Tribunal but died before the end of his sentence, has filed a motion for the verdict to be overturned.

“Judge Harhoff reveals an unacceptable bias towards the conviction of accused people before the ICTY, a bias which could have been a decisive factor in reaching the final decision to convict Rasim Delic,” lawyer Vasvija Vidovic said in the motion.