news 04 Nov 13

UN Urged to Compensate War Crimes Victims

The Hague Tribunal’s president Theodor Meron said the UN had failed by not setting up a reparations fund but defended his court’s record after a series of controversial acquittals.

Boris Pavelic
BIRN
The Hague
Hague Tribunal president Theodor Meron. Photo: ICTY

“It is not right that the United Nations did not create some kind of a fund for reparations, for victims of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia,” judge Meron told BIRN in The Hague.

“We appealed repeatedly [to the UN security council] to take the lead and create something. We did not get anywhere,” he said.

Meron, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, a court created by the UN, said that dealing with prosecuting war crimes suspects was a good starting point, but more needed to be done.

“I think that victims, who lost a hand, or a leg, or suffered otherwise, or their house was burned, they should be entitled to some kind of reparation,” he said.

Critics have argued that the controversial acquittals of several high-profile war crimes suspects by the ICTY over the past year including Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, Kosovo Liberation Army commander Ramush Haradinaj, Yugoslav general Momcilo Perisic and Serbian security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic could hinder the possibility of reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia.

Meron acknowledged that “if I were a victim, I would too be very unhappy when there was an acquittal”.

He said that he understood the grief that such acquittals caused to families of victims because he spent his childhood in a labour camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“I am terribly sad when I hear that an association of victims is unhappy,” he said.

However, he pointed out, “we have to remember that judges have to decide by the law and by the evidence, that they cannot take any other considerations into account”.

He insisted that he was confident that over time, “people will recognise that we are not only doing a good job, we are doing a great job”.

He suggested that “one of the great contributions made by the Tribunal” was the individualisation of guilt.

“Historically when crimes were committed, the crime would be attributed to the entire nation,” Meron said.

“We [the ICTY] never consider a community as a target of investigations or blame. We individualise guilt and thus we prevent… the situation that crimes lead to more wars because countries want vengeance against each other,” he said.

Meron argued that the ICTY would leave behind a strong legacy when it ultimately closes.

“There is no question in my mind that the legacy that we will leave behind… is something which is absolutely tremendous. I am very proud of what we have done,” he said.

He said that ICTY was the only international court among those established over the last two decades which has brought prosecutions against all its indictees – a total of 161 war crimes suspects.

This indicated, Meron said “that over time we gained the support of the various states in the former Yugoslavia, because without cooperation, we would never have had the indictees delivered up to The Hague”.

“We have shown that it is possible to conduct very complex trials with very big volumes of evidence in a regular way, while applying the entire list of due processes, protections and rules of fairness,” the ICTY president said.

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