International Criminal Tribunal (Former Yugoslavia)

– in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 23rd February 2005.

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Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax 4:00 pm, 23rd February 2005

I asked for this debate for three main reasons. When the tribunal was established, I was firmly of the view that it would not heal wounds or bring people together. On the contrary, I thought that it would drive communities in the former Yugoslavia further apart, that it would be conducted on a low threshold of evidence and that it would pit neighbour against neighbour.

I have travelled extensively in the former Yugoslavia, before the various wars and since. I took a great interest in the truth and reconciliation commission established in South Africa. My second reason for securing the debate is that it seems to me that after something as vile and vicious as apartheid, or as vicious as a civil war, such a commission is more likely to succeed than a criminal tribunal.

My third reason for asking for the debate is that it is time to draw a line under the tribunal at The Hague and allow individual countries to arrest, charge and punish their citizens if they believe that they have committed crimes against the community. I notice that the occupying coalition in Iraq, led by the United States, has decided to allow the Iraqi people to try Saddam Hussein and his former Government; there are to be no charges against the warlords and no tribunals in Afghanistan. Yugoslavia seems to be singled out for this kind of treatment, and one must ask why. The United States was one of the main countries to set up the tribunal, and it gives the tribunal money, yet it refuses to sign up to the International Criminal Court. So a lot of double standards hang around the issue.

I have followed the tribunal at The Hague very closely. It is my belief that it delivers a biased system of justice and that the decisions taken by the chief prosecutor are largely based on the nationality of the accused, rather than on what evidence there is against them. In short, the tribunal has turned out as I said it would: it is a victors' court, set up mainly to punish one nationality—the Serbs.

A few years ago, I visited the tribunal with Mark Littman QC, a Serbian colleague who opposed, as I did, the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia. I am pleased to say that we were granted an interview with Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor. We were able to raise some of our concerns about how the indictments had been issued and why there was such emphasis on the Serbs. After all, there had been a civil war in Yugoslavia. When I went to The Hague, I had just returned from Croatia, where I had been looking at the plight of Serb returnees. We were shown mass graves there. In Operation Storm, there had been a lot of fighting; the Croatian army had driven out about 200,000 Serbs, and that was the first mass ethnic cleansing of the various wars. I was very up to date on what had gone on there, and I raised the issue of the mass graves with the prosecutor. We took photographs that matched up with the people who were missing. Carla del Ponte was not interested and said that she was short of resources.

I also raised the issue of Nasser Oric. With another organisation—not the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—I went to the siege of Sarajevo and visited not only the Muslim areas but some of the predominantly Serb villages. All the evidence there was about Oric and his raiding band, and how they had killed lots of people. He was, by any standards, a war criminal and there were videotapes and lots of evidence. Members of this House who went to the same area also know that. The chief prosecutor said that she had no plans to indict him and would not discuss the issue. However, she admitted that the whereabouts of that man were known. Only now, in the face of overwhelming protests and as a result of people putting evidence forward, has he been arrested. He has now been sent for trial at The Hague, but until then he had led rather a pleasant life. I think that there were double standards operating in that case.

In the same year I visited Banja Luka with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I was chair of the sub-committee at that time. We talked to many people and, in particular, to a policeman who worked for the chief prosecutor at The Hague. Interestingly, the policeman came from Preston, in the north of England, not very far from where I live. When he was questioned closely he told us that he had instructions to go after Serb war criminals only. Moreover, on the wall of the office of the prosecutor at The Hague—she is supposed to be impartial and to look for war criminals from every ethnic group in the former Yugoslavia—there was a big cartoon showing Serb criminals wanted for war crimes. Those war criminals probably do need to end up in The Hague, or being tried in their own country, but it seemed to us that the prosecutor showed an overwhelming bias.

We asked about the crimes of one or two of the Kosovo Albanians—Hashim Thaci, Agim Ceku and Ramush Haradinaj, who is now the Prime Minister of Kosovo—but no indictments have been published for them. Everyone agrees that those people took part in some very unpleasant practices during the bombing of Yugoslavia; newspaper articles are written about it, and no one bothers to deny it.

The Croatian general, Gotovina, has recently made it known that he has no intention of surrendering himself to the tribunal at The Hague, although he is willing to appear in Zagreb and be questioned by the tribunal. It is clear that there are laws for some participants in the civil war and not for others. Let us imagine the outcry if Belgrade had hung on for so long to a war criminal or an indicted person who was living openly in Belgrade or one of the other cities. Let us imagine what would have been said in a case similar to that of the general.

The more closely one examines the decisions taken by the chief prosecutor and the conduct of the hearings at the tribunal, the more it becomes clear that the tribunal is not a triumph for law and justice. It is a court founded by the west, funded largely by the west, and staffed at very senior levels by the west.

Many senior professors of law and others take the same view as me; I shall quote only one of them because I have so much material from people who share my view. Robert M. Hayden, from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, in the United States, commented, in relation to the tribunals, on the

"failure of the ICTY Prosecutor to indict NATO leaders for the use of cluster bombs. This prosecutorial standard was set in July 1995, when Milan Martic, president of the self-proclaimed Serb Republic in Croatia, was indicted for violations of the laws and customs of war on the grounds that he had ordered the May 1995 missile attack on Zagreb."

He continues:

"According to the indictment, what made the bombardment a war crime was that the missiles had been fitted with cluster warheads. Seven civilians were killed and many more wounded, and damage was done to a home for the aged and to a children's hospital.

Why, then, have there been no indictments of NATO's May 7 attack on the city of Nis, where cluster bombs fell on the market, killing fifteen people, and hitting also the city's main hospital? It is not acceptable to say that NATO was only aiming at military targets and missed; after all, Martic maintained that he was aiming at military targets in Zagreb . . . While the Prosecutor says that Martic targeted cities intentionally, this is also true of NATO generals, especially the American ones, who were even complaining that French politicians did not permit them to attack more sites in Yugoslav cities."

I stood on the last bridge over the Danube—the railway bridge—at Novi Sad the night before it was bombed by NATO. That was a civilian target, because the bridges bring water supplies and other things across to the other half of the city. There was no doubt that that was deliberately targeted by NATO—it took out all the bridges. I visited the Crvena Zastava car and tractor factory and spoke to the workers just a few days after they had been bombed. That civilian target was hit by 21 cruise missiles. Many people were injured and I have photographs in which there is blood on the floor from the sit-in. The workers did not want to be bombed and they sent their stated position to every country in NATO. I do not know how they survived—people were only injured and not dead—because it was such a complete mess after the bombardment. From my hotel bedroom window I watched NATO bomb the oil refinery at Pancevo. I visited people who were grieving for colleagues who died. There are no charges against NATO for any of these offences. NATO took action that did not have the approval of the United Nations.

In late 1999 the tribunal prosecutor said that she was investigating NATO's conduct during the Kosovo war, including the question of the use of cluster bombs, but within days she produced a preliminary document that to my knowledge has never been published—and I have been trying to get hold of it. There was a press release, of which Robert M. Hayden said:

"The prosecutor had said that if the report indicated that NATO broke the Geneva conventions she would indict those responsible; however, four days later she issued a press release stating that NATO is 'not under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor . . . There is no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict.'"

It was never going to happen. Carla del Ponte, like her predecessor the Canadian, Louise Arbour, is a creature of NATO. Just listen to what Jamie Shea, the official press officer, said in answer to a question about NATO's liability for war crimes before the court at The Hague:

"NATO is the friend of the Tribunal. NATO countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal, we are among the majority financiers."

The ICTY was set up to try to convict Serbs. Serbs resisted the western Governments who had taken sides.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Lady agree that whatever the motives for setting up the tribunal, it is now perceived in the region—particularly in Serbia—as more of a hindrance to advancing democracy, because of the feeling of victimisation?

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

I certainly do agree with that, and I will be coming to that. The decision was taken that the Serbs had to be punished collectively and that a veneer of legality would be provided by—in my view—an incompetent tribunal, not one where justice is handed out freely and fairly. If the people in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan can try their own people, why cannot the people of the former Yugoslavia do exactly the same?

I turn briefly to the ongoing trial of Mr. Milosevic, and note that paragraph 58 of the newly produced Foreign Affairs Committee report on the western Balkans says:

"we also heard that the badly run Milosevic trial permitted the former leader to present himself as a martyr for Serbia."

Whether he does that or not, I agree with the comments about the trial being badly run; anybody who follows those events will be horrified.

Mr. Milosevic wants to conduct his own trial. The right for somebody to conduct their own defence is a basic right in all our national systems, it is identified as a basic human right in most international conventions and it is explicitly granted in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. There is a precedent for imposing legal counsel when people are so violent that they would disrupt proceedings. However, there is no precedent for imposing legal counsel for ill health. Mr. Stephen Kay, the British lawyer, has tried to get himself dismissed, but has now been imposed by the court. The whole matter has developed into a farce.

Mr. Milosevic, who has been preparing his case for almost two years, will not co-operate with Mr. Kay. Most witnesses refuse to co-operate with what they regard as a fraudulent process. However, Mr. Stephen Kay, despite voicing misgivings about conducting a case against a client's will, has accepted a position of imposed counsel. Mr. Milosevic has been preparing his case with the help of two legal advisers. He has now seen the whole case handed over to a British lawyer who was not involved in the preparation. The timetable is tight. It was an unlimited timetable for the prosecution, but not for the defence. What kind of justice can anyone expect when such legal chicanery is allowed in a court to which we have put our name?

The agony for the Serbs is continuing. I have looked briefly at today's Foreign Affairs Committee report. On page 27, under the heading of "Co-operation with The Hague Tribunal", it refers to criticism once again of the Government of Serbia. I desperately want the whole region to be regenerated. I want a good, safe democratic future for all the people who live in the former Yugoslavia. The tribunal in The Hague is a festering sore at the heart of Yugoslavia. It is preventing any progress from being made for all its people.

I wish to quote Professor Jianming Shen at St. John's university in Canada. He argues that the tribunal system

"is a lopsided one. Whom to indict, when to indict, and what evidence to collect and use, are all under the control of one single individual"— in my view, a very incompetent and biased individual—

"and there is no checking and review mechanism except for the judges of the chambers of the Tribunal who in theory may reject a prosecution."

He concludes that the tribunal should not be placed in the hands of one prosecutor and goes on to suggest ways in which that could be overcome. I want a complete end to this process.

The cost of administering the tribunal is absolutely staggering. The 2004–05 budget was nearly $300 million. For incompetence and bias, the countries in the west are paying out such money. Let us just consider how much better that money could be spent regenerating the area. It should go into Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo, where people have been without electricity in some of the Serb villages for a couple of months. People are still being murdered there. It still has a war criminal that the tribunal refuses to indict. Much better use could have been made of the money. It could have rebuilt the bridges over the Danube that were destroyed deliberately. It could rebuild some of the hospitals.

I spent the weekend in Brussels with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I was surprised and a little shocked when, on receiving a report on Afghanistan, senior NATO politicians and members of the military, discussing the warlords, the poppy trade and opium, said that, for the good of Afghanistan, there must be no trials, but that they must bring in the warlords. They said that those people had committed mass murders and killed thousands, and that they must be brought into the civic and political process. The double standards when applied to Serbia and Montenegro are absolutely breathtaking.

The tribunal should be abolished and then all the people of Yugoslavia could start to heal the wounds that separate them. The children are now being punished. The next generation will have to bear the guilt. Let us ensure that the children—the young people—can take their place in the heart of Europe where they belong.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:20 pm, 23rd February 2005

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon on securing the debate and on raising this important subject today.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton accords and the end of the bloodiest conflict in the former Yugoslav Federation. We should remember that in the past 10 years so much has changed for the better. Free and fair elections have been held throughout the region, large-scale conflict no longer threatens and the European Union and other international partners are united in working with the region to maintain stability and create prosperity. The dark days of the early 1990s thankfully now seem a distant memory.

However, a shadow remains and will do so as long as the truth is suppressed and denied. It is cast by the war crimes committed during the bloody conflicts in the early 1990s and it will not be removed until those responsible for the appalling atrocities committed during the conflict are held to account. That is why the United Kingdom remains a firm supporter of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. We will continue to lend our political, financial and practical support for an efficient tribunal that can deliver effective justice for the thousands of victims who suffered so much during the conflict.

At the same time, we recognise concerns about the operation of the tribunal, in particular its cost, slowness and geographical distance from the victims. Others have alleged, as we have heard today, that it is biased against Serbs. I will seek to address those questions. The tribunal has so far cost United Nations member states some $860 million since its inception in 1993, of which the UK's share is some $54 million. We have taken a close interest in the efficient management of the tribunal and will continue our policy of bearing down on its costs.

However, we must recognise that international justice is an expensive process. The complexity and nature of the cases before the tribunal make them inherently expensive. Cases arising from three separate conflicts are being prosecuted and indictees often face multiple counts. The Lockerbie trial, by way of comparison, cost UK taxpayers some £60 million.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I hear what the Minister is saying, but will he explain why a similar tribunal has not been set up for Iraq? Why is Saddam Hussein to be tried by his own people?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is fair to say that the basis on which the actions were taken, the nature of the conflicts and the circumstances of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq are fundamentally different. The consequences for the judicial processes that follow on from that conflict reflect the fact that there are very different circumstances in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

The Minister will be aware that my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, who is now the special envoy on human rights to Iraq, chaired an organisation, Indict, which collected evidence for years with the express view of having such a tribunal. Now that prospect is gone. Why?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I maintain the position that the Government have advanced: assistance is being rendered to the Iraqi authorities in bringing forward a proper system of judicial authority, which will allow in turn for prosecutions to take place, not least in relation to Saddam Hussein. I return to the substantive point that I am conscious that the issue of Iraq has divided both this Chamber and some within our party. However, it is only common sense to recognise that there are distinctive circumstances at work in the former Yugoslavia and in Iraq, which gave rise to the action that was taken.

On fugitives from justice, we have made clear our belief that the ICTY should plan its work within the deadlines that it has set out. However, its progress is also clearly subject to factors outside its control, the most important of which is co-operation from states in the region in apprehending fugitive indictees, and providing access to documents and witnesses. The president and prosecutor have both made it clear that lack of such co-operation will affect the tribunal's final closure date. We take that lack of co-operation extremely seriously and will take action to support the tribunal. There can be no closure until all the accused have been brought to The Hague to face trial.

Many of the accused have voluntarily surrendered and pleaded guilty; others have been tried and sentenced. Three individuals stand accused of ordering and orchestrating the most serious crimes: Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and Ante Gotovina. They remain fugitives from justice. The charges against Mladic and Karadzic include the massacre at Srebrenica where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in cold blood because, in the views of those who perpetrated the action, they held the wrong religious beliefs. Their refusal to surrender, while others face trial, is shameful.

Even worse is the refusal of the relevant authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro to take all possible steps to secure their arrest. We have welcomed recent transfers of lower-level indictees and provided co-operation at a bureaucratic level, but there remains in the Serb body politic a refusal to face up to the past. That has tragic consequences for the people of Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia. Their future prosperity is held hostage by a few fugitives and by their elected representatives' refusal to grasp the nettle and accept their international legal and moral obligations.

The authorities in Belgrade and Banja Luka are not alone. Croatia is on the cusp of an historic step: opening accession negotiations with the European Union. As a champion of enlargement, the United Kingdom is committed to helping all the countries of the western Balkans to take their rightful place within Europe, but that cannot be at the expense of political conditionality. All countries, including our own, are under an obligation to co-operate fully with the tribunal.

Since gaining candidate status last June, the Croatian authorities have failed to satisfy the chief prosecutor that they are doing everything they possibly can to locate and apprehend the fugitive general, Ante Gotovina. The European Council conclusions in December 2004 made it clear that accession negotiations could begin only when the authorities were co-operating fully with The Hague. However, the Croatian Government seem unwilling to meet their obligations. Instead they indulge in cosmetic measures and public relations campaigns in the hope that negotiations will begin anyway. We continue to make it clear that they need to take action now to enable negotiations to begin in March. The importance of conditionality policy and the tribunal is not just about Gotovina, Karadzic or Mladic; it is about the rule of law, about European norms of behaviour and about these countries' willingness to confront the past in order to be able to face the future.

The tribunal has brought a sense of justice to many thousands of victims across the region, guaranteeing that their suffering is acknowledged and not ignored. More than 3,500 witnesses have had the chance to tell their stories while testifying in court. For many, though not all, that has helped the process of personal closure. As we heard in the debate, the tribunal has been criticised by some for concentrating more on one ethnic group—the Bosnian Serbs—than any other. However, it is important to remember that the indictments are against individuals, not groups. The emphasis on individual responsibility dispels any notion of collective punishment of the Serbs as a group, as has been suggested.

The tribunal's influence will continue after its closure. It will have left an historic record of the atrocities and of jurisprudence. It is not possible for the tribunal to hear every case against every individual, but its experience will be an invaluable resource for the regional courts, such as the special war crimes chamber of the Bosnian state court, which will continue to prosecute suspected war criminals. Together with its sister tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, it will leave a legacy of ground-breaking case law, which is already proving an important resource for the newly established International Criminal Court.

The international community has learned valuable lessons from the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. They are likely to be the last tribunals of their kind. More recent tribunals, such as the special court for Sierra Leone, are smaller and more tightly focused in terms of the number of indictees and counts, which makes for a much shorter lifespan and much lower costs.

For the future, the United Kingdom will work together with like-minded partners for the widest possible jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court so that we can ensure that there is no impunity for those who commit the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity. The court, which the UK regards as a milestone in the development of international justice, was founded in part to avoid the need to set up such ad hoc tribunals as that in Yugoslavia. We believe that over time the permanent court will develop into a powerful deterrent against would-be perpetrators of the most heinous crimes, which it is the shared responsibility of the international community to punish.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.