Ghost of Nuremberg will haunt tribunal: There are no victors in Yugoslavia's war, therefore no 'victor's justice', Judge Goldstone tells Robert Block in The Hague

The workmen building the courtroom in a wing of an old Art Deco insurance building in The Hague go about their jobs with a sense of urgency. In just two weeks, the courtroom, which will be the centre stage of the first international war crimes tribunal in 50 years, will hold its first public hearing.

There is much work to do if all is to go according to plan. As of yesterday, the bullet-proof glass wall that separates the actual chambers from the public gallery was in place. But the rest of the vast room was still covered with wood panelling and bare metal struts.

The workmen are not the only people in the tribunal working under the pressure of a deadline. The 15 staff investigators are also rushing to prepare for the 8 November hearing when the prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, will inform the court of his intention to investigate Dusan Tadic, a Bosnian Serb under arrest in Germany for allegedly ordering the torture and killing of Muslims during a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' in northern Bosnia in 1992.

While there are several problems with the Tadic case, including the need to get Germany to surrender jurisdiction, Mr Tadic fits the tribunal's criteria of being a person of some responsibility against whom there appears to be significant evidence. And with the tribunal's finances running out at the end of the year, Mr Goldstone and his team felt pressed to move quickly against the most eligible suspect in Western hands in order to convince the world that the court is working.

The event next month, while little more than a formality devoid of the drama of seeing a suspect in the dock, is a symbolically important event for a body dogged by criticism of lethargy since its inception in a UN Security Council resolution on 22 February 1993. 'It is the first time the tribunal will face the public. It represents the birth of the tribunal,' said Mr Goldstone's spokesman, Christian Chartier.

Mr Goldstone is one of South Africa's most respected judges. He assumed his job as prosecutor fresh from heading a three- year commission on political violence in his own country.

He investigated and exposed the shadowy involvement of white security forces in black township violence. His efforts were crucial to the country's transition to majority rule. He is by no means a man who can be lightly dismissed. But even he is philosophical when it comes to his present task.

He is fully aware that in Bosnia, unlike in Germany 50 years ago, there are no victors and therefore there can be no 'victor's justice'.

The tribunal arose from wrangling between Washington and Europe over how to respond to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Americans pressed hardest for its creation, and if the tribunal is a product of US insistance, then it is a true reflection of its most important antecedent, the Nazi war crime tribunal convened in Nuremberg on 20 November 1945.

The very language used to describe the Bosnian war's atrocities: 'ethnic cleansing', genocide and concentration camps, is entangled with the language of the Nazi era. And the tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia itself carries echoes of Nuremberg.

But the comparison is one with which Mr Goldstone is not completely comfortable. 'Nuremberg was a military tribunal, this is a civil court.

Nuremberg was set up by the four victorious powers, this has been established by the United Nations. Above all, the biggest difference is that times have changed.'

The tribunal, with its present staff of 60, is small. Apart from 24 detention cells built in The Hague to hold any accused awaiting trial, no countries have yet volunteered prisons to house the convicted.

Most significantly, the tribunal has no powers of arrest. All it can do is issue arrest warrants against those whom it has deemed guilty according to the weight of evidence. Such a warrant would only amount to humiliation, not necessarily punishment, for those accused who remain out of reach in the war zone.

Is this an adequate response to what has happened in Bosnia? 'On its own, clearly not,' said Mr Goldstone. 'Let me preface that by saying that any system of justice is an ex-post facto event. And its relevance is the extent to which it can assist reconciliation and peace. Without a succesful peace process it is irrelevant.'

Part of the problem, and a source of scepticism over the tribunal's ultimate effectiveness, is that those deemed most responsible for the crimes in the former Yugoslavia are those same leaders now being courted by the international community to make peace.

'People like referring to names of leaders, that is not the approach in this office. We are looking for evidence against anybody who has been implicated in human rights abuses.' How far up the chain is Mr Goldstone willing to go?

'As far up the chain as the evidence takes us.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?