Posted by: sean | April 10, 2007

Something rotten

Here’s another genocide-related event in the international community, which gives me the impression that something’s rotten in, well, the Hague:

Serbia, the heir to Yugoslavia, obtained the tribunal’s permission to keep parts of the archives out of the public eye. Citing national security, its lawyers blacked out many sensitive — those who have seen them say incriminating — pages. Judges and lawyers at the war crimes tribunal could see the censored material, but it was barred from the tribunal’s public records.

Now, lawyers and others who were involved in Serbia’s bid for secrecy say that, at the time, Belgrade made its true objective clear: to keep the full military archives from the International Court of Justice, where Bosnia was suing Serbia for genocide. And they say Belgrade’s goal was achieved in February, when the international court, which is also in The Hague, declared Serbia not guilty of genocide, and absolved it from paying potentially enormous damages.

Lawyers interviewed in The Hague and Belgrade said that the outcome might well have been different had the International Court of Justice pressed for access to the full archives, and legal scholars and human rights groups said it was deeply troubling that the judges did not subpoena the documents directly from Serbia. At one point, the court rebuffed a Bosnian request that it demand the full documents, saying that ample evidence was available in tribunal records.

“It’s a question that nags loudly,” Diane Orentlicher, a law professor at American University in Washington, said recently in The Hague. “Why didn’t the court request the full documents? The fact that they were blacked out clearly implies these passages would have made a difference.”

The ruling — which was binding and final — was in many ways meticulous, and acknowledged that the 15 judges had not seen the censored archives. But it did not say why the court did not order Serbia to provide the full documents.

The first-hand experience I’ve had at the UN and what I know of the tribunals in the Hague and Arusha have convinced me that it would be naïve to think that there are no deals being made in the smoke-filled hotel rooms.

This probably has something to do with Serbia’s wishes to join the EU and the fact that a guilty verdict would probably ruin the country financially. But still, this seems unacceptable to me.


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