War-crime victims face long wait for justice

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD may have to wait a long time before those guilty of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia are brought to justice, the head of the United Nations investigating commission has warned. And there is scant chance of war- crimes trials starting while fighting still rages in Bosnia and Croatia.

On Monday the UN Security Council voted to set up an international war-crimes tribunal to try those accused of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

'You must have some kind of peace in the former Yugoslavia before you can start any criminal proceedings,' said Frits Kalshoven, head of the UN commission. It would be 'quite a long time' before anyone appeared in the dock, as there was no international legal foundation for a trial. Codes such as the Geneva Convention apply to wars between states, whereas the Yugoslav atrocities come under the category of civil war. An international treaty will have to be drafted and adopted by the UN before any tribunal can start judging.

'There are so many unresolved questions,' Mr Kalshoven said. 'Where will people serve their sentences and what kind of punishments will they be given? What legal system would be used - old Yugoslav or English law? At the moment we have no legal basis for arresting anyone.'

Under strong pressure from Washington to get going, ministerial delegations from European Community countries, Canada and the United States are expected to meet this week in Brussels to start working out who will serve on the international tribunal, what powers it will have and who should be prosecuted. The broad guidelines of the Security Council resolution only say that 'persons who committed or ordered crimes are individually responsible for their acts', going on to state that 'ethnic cleansing' and rape should be investigated.

Though the tribunal has not yet been formed, investigators are working on a pilot-case: the siege of the Croatian city of Vukovar by the Yugoslav army in 1991 and the killing of hundreds of Croats taken from Vukovar hospital after the city fell.

The lists of potential suspects for a war-crimes trial put out by the former US secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, is not being investigated by the commission. Mr Eagleburger named the Serb militia leader Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, Drago Prcac, commander of the Bosnian Serb detention camp for Muslims at Omarska and Borislav Herak, a Bosnian Serb accused of killing 230 Muslims, as likely candidates for a war-crimes trial.

Apart from the Vukovar case, the commission is only gathering evidence. Croatia, Bosnia and the rump Yugoslavia have submitted dossiers.

'The Yugoslav government are co-operative but they never send information about crimes committed by their own people,' Mr Kalshoven said. Dossiers submitted by Croatia and Bosnia suffered the same bias.

But Mr Kalshoven said that, in spite of obstacles, he was convinced in the end that 'all the governments will be co-operative'.

GENEVA - The United Nations Human Rights Commission unanimously condemned Bosnian Serbs and their Serbian backers for war atrocities yesterday, singling out the systematic rape of thousands of Muslim women, Reuter reports.

The 53-state Commission passed two resolutions backing the findings of its special investigator, Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

(Photograph omitted)