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Paul O'Hanlon | 22.11.2005 22:02 | Analysis | Anti-militarism

This is a 1,200 word report of the proceedings (or lack of them) at the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the former Yugoslavia being held in The Hague, Netherlands. 6 Labelled photos are attached.


The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been going for some 11 years now. It was initiated in 1993 by United Nations resolution 827 to deal with the `violations of war or customs of war` and `grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention`. Resolution 827 was passed on 25th May 1993 mainly at the insistence of then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The location chosen was the Dutch capital of The Hague (both Amsterdam and The Hague have claims to be the capital of the Netherlands) and the tribunal proper got under way in 1994.

The ICTY has been notoriously slow and inefficient with a staff of over 11,000 (11,062 to be precise - from 79 countries) and a budget to date of over 900 million dollars.

Here are the official budget figures drawn from the General Information booklet for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

1993: $276,000
1994: $10,800,000
1995: $25,300,000
1996: $35,430,622
1997: $48,587,000
1998: $64,775,300
1999: $94,103,800
2000: $95,942,600
2001: $96,443,900
2002 –
2003: $223,169,800
2004 -
2005: $271,854,600 =

Budget Grand Total as of April 15th 2005= $963 million dollars plus. – Nearly a billion dollars or around ₤557 million pounds.

I have visited the tribunal on two occasions – once in 1997 when I interviewed both Press Spokesman Christian Chartier and leading Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald. The second occasion was earlier this month - on Wednesday 9th November this year. Little seems to have changed with the one major exception that ex Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in custody. Two other big fish Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Miladic are still at liberty.

The Nuremberg trials for the Nazis lasted some 10 months; while this current trial has so far lasted over 11 years and may drag on for another 5 years – there is an official closure date of 2010.

The amount of media coverage and public interest has been low with many local people being almost totally unaware of its existence. There was a flurry of interest in the summer of 1997 when Bosnian Serb Dusan (or `Dusko`) Tadic was sentenced to 20 years.

However, even at the best of times the public gallery, which can seat 142, is only about 10% full with 3 or 4 journalists and half a dozen bored spectators. The judges on the panel of 3 (there is no jury) frequently yawn and members of the gallery often fall asleep.
A Croatian journalist I spoke to said cynically that she did not blame them. Many of the ICTY staff members seem vague about the various terms and acronyms used in the trial. Nobody knew what the term `HVO` meant. I had to ask the Croatian reporter who told me HVO stands for Hvratsko Vijedje Odrang who are the Croatian Paramilitaries.

There are literally tons of documents associated with this tribunal and I hardly think the reader wants to read all of the thousands of pages of legalese but here is a sample:

“The Governments of Canada and New Zealand respectfully submit this amicus curiae brief in response to the invitation of the appeals chamber of the international tribunal in its decision on the admissibility of the request for review by the republic of Croatia of an interlocutory decision of a trial chamber (issuance of Subpoenae Duces Tecum) dated 29th July 1997” – er…. I think the word is gobbledygook. Then again of course I’m not a 1,000 dollar a day lawyer.

What is a war crime? Who decides who should be tried and for what? During the Nuremberg trials for the Nazis when the allies read out the crimes of the accused there were shouts back of “What about Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima?” Their pleas went unanswered. It seems as if a war crime can only be committed by the other side.

When I interviewed Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald I asked if she thought the accused had a point in drawing attention to allied crimes and she said she thought maybe they had. I also asked if the law should apply equally to everyone or not at all. After all, it is hardly fair that one man can commit a heinous crime and get 20 years while another man can commit exactly the same crime and get away Scott free. The Judge concurred. I asked her if she had heard of Ramsey Clark who is the former US attorney general. Indeed she had, in fact she knew his father Tom Clark who was another leading lawyer. I presented Judge McDonald with a signed copy of Ramsey Clark’s book `The Fire this time` which deals with crimes committed by US forces during the first gulf war (use of cluster bombs, depleted uranium etc). She seemed surprised that such a book had been written but graciously accepted the copy and with the interview at an end I thanked her for her time.

I also spoke to Press Spokesman for the ICTY Christian Chartier, a former French Journalist. He thanked me for my efforts to publicise the tribunal which had barely caught the public imagination and like Judge McDonald he was amazed to hear of Ramsey Clark’s commission of enquiry on US war crimes in the gulf. He made a note of the book title, author and ISBN and said he would try and get a copy.

That was some time ago and during my second visit to the tribunal I found interest has gotten even less than before. Despite the big name in the dock in the morning session – Slobodan Milosevic – there seemed little public or press interest. I was there for the afternoon session when a Radoslav Brdjanin was in the dock for `crimes against humanity` `grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions` and violations of `the laws and customs of war`.

Christian Chartier was not available that day but one of his deputies Mr. Jim Lansdale came down to see me – I asked him what he though of the slowness of the tribunal and he said that the tribunal and judicial procedures had taken time to build up.

In the court room itself I found myself the sole occupant of the spacious gallery. Several people did drift in for a while but soon got bored and left. I listed to the evidence through the battery operated translators which give the proceedings in English, French and Serbo Croat though interestingly enough not in Dutch. Rather like the British Houses of Parliament there is a Perspex screen between the court and the public gallery. I stayed till nearly five O’clock to watch a judge shuffle some papers around and try and make sense of what was going on. My last memory of the court was hearing someone say “I think you may be looking at the wrong document.”

On the way out I asked what the legal term `Amicus Curiae` meant and surprisingly someone knew. Amicus Curiae is literally a friend of the court – not necessarily a lawyer - who observes the proceedings.

For further information about ICTY please visit their website:

6 labelled photos are attached.

Word count 1,186 words

Paul O'Hanlon
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