Yugoslavia war tribunal opens

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The Independent Online
ELEVEN men and women, all distinguished judges from as many countries, gathered in the Hague yesterday at the 'Peace Palace' - the home of the International Court of Justice - and were sworn in as the first war crimes tribunal since the Second World War.

Created last May to try people accused of murder, rape and other 'serious violations' of international humanitarian law committed in former Yugoslavia since 1991, the tribunal met after the inauguration to elect a president and draft rules of procedure.

Skeptics saw the proceedings as an empty gesture by a world with a guilty conscience for failing to stop the killing in Bosnia. Supporters viewed the tribunal as a warning to present and future war criminals and expressed confidence that justice would eventually be done.

Before the inauguration, the United Nations under-secretary general for legal affairs, Carl-August Fleischhauer, said he expected the new court to be a 'workable institution and a success' for the international community as a whole. He told the people of Bosnia to 'Look (on) with hope.'

Despite Mr Fleischhauer's optimism, diplomats and international legal experts harbour serious doubts about whether the most notorious war criminals from the war will every be brought to trial. Unlike Nuremberg, no culprits of war crimes are in custody, despite plenty of witnesses' testimonies. Some of the worst offenders are considered by international mediators to be crucial to the search for peace and are unlikely to be extradited for trial. There will be no trials in absentia.

To make matters worse, the tribunal's dollars 32m ( pounds 22m) annual budget has not yet been officially approved, its 350 investigators have not been appointed and the court does not have a permanent working office.

Most significantly for the tribunal, the war in Bosnia rages on.

Yesterday the only usable aid route from the Adriatic to central Bosnia remained closed after a deal between the British UN force at Vitez and the local Bosnian Croat army command broke down. The Croats continue a big build up at Gornji Vakuf. They have warned the British any vehicles approaching their forces will be fired on.

In another development soldiers from the Bosnian army slightly wounded a UN driver after stopping the aid vehicle he was driving and demanding food.

(Photograph omitted)