WASHINGTON — Reviving hopes of human rights activists, the U.N. Security Council on Friday appointed Richard Goldstone--the South African judge who exposed the illegal, anti-black campaign of his country's military intelligence officers--as prosecutor for the Balkans War Crimes Tribunal.
The appointment, by a unanimous 15-0 vote, came after more than a year of wrangling over a prosecutor. The tribunal is charged with trying those accused of "ethnic cleansing" and other war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Delays in choosing a prosecutor slowed the work of the tribunal, headquartered in The Hague. But diplomats now believe that Goldstone, 55, should be ready to announce the first indictments this fall.
The council vote also ushered a prominent South African into a prestigious international position. Until the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first black president in late April, it was unthinkable that the council would name a judge from a country that was the redoubt of apartheid and an international pariah.
Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who has made prosecution of war criminals in the Balkans almost a personal crusade, was vacationing in Europe when the council voted.
But in a statement issued on her behalf by the U.S. mission to the United Nations, she hailed Goldstone as "a seasoned barrister and judge who, at great personal risk, insisted that the truth be known about cruel abuses committed under apartheid in South Africa."
"He already has made his mark on history on one continent," she said. "By our decision today, Judge Goldstone will have an opportunity to shape the future on another continent."
Albright also bemoaned the long delay in naming him. "The search for a chief prosecutor . . . has consumed too much time and encountered too many obstacles--some unreasonable, others unpredictable," she said. "The victims of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia have not been well-served by the resulting delay."
The council had named a prosecutor once before, selecting Venezuelan Atty. Gen. Ramon Escovar Salom last October.
But he first delayed coming to The Hague so he could continue his prosecution of former President Carlos Andres Perez for corruption; he then resigned in February to become Venezuelan interior minister.
The selection process was hampered by an agreement among council members that their choice be unanimous.
This set off a steady stream of vetoes over the months: Britain vetoed an Egyptian-born American; several developing nations vetoed a Scot; Pakistan vetoed an Indian; Russia vetoed an American and a Canadian.
Although council members did name a deputy prosecutor, Graham T. Blewitt of Australia, in February, the paralysis over choosing a prosecutor made many human rights activists wonder about the Security Council's commitment to the tribunal.
The ambassadors reportedly settled on Goldstone at the suggestion of Judge Antonio Cassese of Italy, the presiding judge of the tribunal.
In South Africa, Goldstone's Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation attracted worldwide attention in 1992 when it accused military intelligence officers of mounting a dirty-tricks campaign against the African National Congress, using prostitutes, drug dealers and murderers to lure ANC officials into criminal activities.
His commission also bared the details of police massacres of black demonstrators and of violence between Zulus and Xhosas.
Goldstone established a reputation as an evenhanded, reassuring magistrate and became one of the few members of the white Establishment of South Africa to win the full respect of black political leaders.
Despite the appointment of a Balkans prosecutor, there is some fear among human rights groups that the United States and its European allies might bargain away the tribunal to induce Serbia to accept a peace agreement.
Although all sides have been accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, a U.N. commission recently concluded that most were committed by the Serbs.
They, for example, have been accused of employing the practice of "ethnic cleansing," in which murder, rape and other violence have been used to clear an area of enemies, both military and civilian.
U.S. officials said the Clinton Administration still regards the tribunal as a separate issue from any peace agreement and would oppose any lifting of sanctions on Serbia if it refused to cooperate with the tribunal by turning over those indicted by the prosecutor.