UN prosecutor to appeal after Yugoslav acquittals attacked

24th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

The chief prosecutor at the UN Yugoslav war crimes court said Monday he shared victims' dismay at a raft of recent acquittals that have sparked an unprecedented storm of criticism and allegations of US interference.

"I understand the disappointment felt by many, especially survivor communities following the series of recent acquittals," Serge Brammertz said in a statement.

"My office shares that disappointment," Brammertz wrote.

Brammertz's statement came after a letter written by International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judge Frederik Harhoff was leaked earlier this month.

In it Harhoff claimed that the tribunal's president, US judge Theodor Meron, had pressured other judges to acquit leading Croatian and Serbian officers, possibly under pressure from the US.

He said the court was moving towards a policy that commanders could only be convicted if it could be proven that they knew of their subordinates' intention to commit crime.

Harhoff suggested that US or Israeli officials were involved in the acquittals.

The leaked letter caused an international storm which has threatened to undermine the credibility of the Hague-based ICTY, the UN's oldest international tribunal which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Brammertz said he was "concerned about destructive elements in the debate that has followed the letter's publication. However, it is not appropriate or helpful for this office to enter into the debate."

Until late last year, Harhoff's letter said, "it has been more or less set practice at the court that military commanders were held responsible for war crimes that their subordinates committed" during the Bosnian war.

"But then the court's appeals chamber suddenly back-tracked last autumn," Harhoff wrote, saying he had the "uncomfortable feeling that the court has changed the direction of pressure from the 'military establishments' in certain dominant countries."

Now, "most cases will lead to commanding officers walking free from here on."

"So the American (and Israeli) leaders can breathe a sigh of relief," Harhoff wrote.

© 2013 AFP

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