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War-Crimes Court Makes a Case for Itself

Law: The international tribunal is growing in size and stature as suspects from the Balkans are being rounded up.

April 25, 1998|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The tribunal's greatest weakness--one that could also plague a permanent court--has been its lack of enforcement mechanisms to make sovereign states comply with its orders, she said.

Arbour said her top priority for the permanent court "is to have an independent and strong prosecutor. With all the powers that we already have, you can see how long we had to struggle just to get arrests performed."

In recent months, the reluctant governments of Croatia and Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb Republic, have shown a greater willingness to cooperate with the tribunal, though Serbia remains a staunch holdout. And the North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeepers who once shied away from arresting indicted suspects have shown a notable new willingness to help transfer suspects to The Hague.

Part of the change: After issuing public indictments for several years, the prosecutors here finally began keeping the names and facts of their newest cases secret. The idea, Arbour said, was to avoid driving the indicted deep underground, leaving them to expose themselves to easier capture.

It worked. In July 1997, British NATO forces carried out a raid in northwest Bosnia, capturing one suspect and fatally shooting another.

Before long, men with reason to believe that they too might be on secret lists in The Hague began negotiating surrenders.

"I have always said, 'All we need is one,' " Arbour said. "If there is just one arrest, then there will be surrenders."

The growing number of men in custody, she said, has made it easier to persuade potential donor nations that their money will not be wasted if they helped finance the court's work. Last year, Britain put up $500,000 for a new courtroom, and in January, the United States and the Netherlands jointly contributed $2.6 million for a third courtroom.

Canada, for its part, recently offered $425,000 to help U.N. investigators resume the grisly warm-weather job of exhuming mass graves near the city of Srebrenica, a former U.N.-designated "safe haven" for noncombatant Muslims, overrun by Serb forces during the war. And Britain recently solved a procedural problem for the tribunal by offering asylum to witnesses who might face retribution if they returned home after testifying.

"All you need in the international community is to displace one pillar of strength," Arbour said, "and a lot of things start going better."

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