Global Policy Forum

Uncertain Future for War Crimes Tribunals


By Katherine Boyle*

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
November 3, 2006

The Rwandan and former Yugoslavia war crimes tribunals are running out of time and money. Having consumed roughly two billion US dollars in funding from the international community since the mid Nineties, the UN's ad-hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are supposed to finish their work within three years. But top prosecutors from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, have recently expressed concerns about completing cases on time. And should the tribunals fail to bring all cases to trial during their allotted time period, there is no guarantee that their UN funding will continue.

The UN has approved ICTY's budget for 2006-2007, but it is future funding that worries Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. "Justice is not a fast food chain," said Del Ponte at a September 29 seminar in Finland. She said that if countries from the UN cease funding the tribunal, "thousands of Muslim victims in Europe will never see their legitimate needs for justice satisfied" unless other sources such as the European Union decide to subsidise the court.

The ICTY was created in 1993 and is to have all cases completed by the end of 2008. As of 2005, it had spent nearly one billion dollars, and its biannual allocations from the UN have grown significantly in recent years. Its 2006-2007 allocation is over a quarter of a billion dollars, the largest yet.

Created in 1994 shortly after the Rwandan genocide, the ICTR is to have all its cases completed by 2010. By 2007, the total costs incurred by the Rwandan tribunal are also expected to surpass a billion dollars, and its expenses have increased as well. Its 2006-2007 budget is just under a quarter of a billion dollars.

Several key players at the UN have expressed their ambivalence or downright disapproval of continuing to finance the tribunals past their assigned closing dates. Russia has particularly objected to the ICTY, calling it a "politicised, opaque and expensive organ" in a statement to the UN on October 9. A representative from the Russian Federation also noted that Moscow expects the ICTY to strictly adhere to fulfilling its completion strategy.

"The fact that Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and other accused are not in the hands of the ICTY cannot be considered an excuse for an unlimited extension of this organ's operations," said the representative. The statement also implied that the court was prejudiced. It described the ICTY judges as "biased", and suggested that it should closely review the number of persons convicted and the length of their sentence in light of the defendants' ethnic backgrounds. Conversely, the Russian Federation praised the ICTR for keeping the UN informed about its activities and for actively working to meet its completion mandate.

And it seems Russia is not the only nation weary of providing funding for the tribunals. "Already you sense fatigue about funding for the tribunal in the UN," said the ICTR's chief prosecutor Hassan Jallow at an October 4 lecture in The Hague. Jallow said obtaining funding is "an uphill battle" each time the tribunal goes before the UN. Jallow hopes to "close down the [ICTR's] mandate" by 2010 with the help of national courts who may be able to take over prosecution of the remaining cases. But he noted that it will be important to maintain some sort of judicial mechanism to deal with residual issues, such as case reviews, witness protection and reintegration of prisoners into society.

The ICTY is also discussing ways to tie up these loose ends, said the spokesman for the ICTY Registry and Chambers Refic Hodzic. He added that it was too early to speculate on how they might be funded and said that discussions were still at an early stage. "There will have to be a way found," he said. "There will definitely be a proposal for solutions coming from the tribunal."

But the issue is whether the UN will be willing to pay for such measures in order to ensure the smooth transition of justice from international to domestic courts. The overall results of the tribunals may have ramifications beyond the number of cases prosecuted and those that remain untried.

Whether the likes of Mladic and Karadzic are prosecuted could have an effect on how the public views the International Criminal Court, ICC, noted William Pace, a senior official with the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, CICC, a coalition of NGOs backing the ICC, the world's first permanent international court.

If the courts' mandates expire and funds run out before such the fugitives are brought to justice, this might affect how the international community views the ICC's potential to prosecute war criminals, said Pace. The ICC, which also requires significant funding, is meant to provide a venue for war crimes cases to be tried when national courts are unwilling or unable to try the cases themselves. The permanent court is expected to handle all war crimes perpetrated after 2002 - when it was established - that are not covered by one of the tribunals or a national court.

The Assembly of States Parties, a group of over 100 nations that have signed onto the Rome Statue supporting the court, provides the ICC's budget. Several key UN members, including the US, Russia, India and China, have chosen not to support the ICC.

Since the ICC's establishment, this budget has been increasing, although no cases have yet been heard in its Hague courtrooms. In 2002, the ICC began with a budget of 30 million euro. By 2004, that had increased to nearly 45 million, and in 2005 staff costs and the creation of new offices in Uganda, Chad and the Sudan had caused the budget to hit almost 65 million. In 2006, it was approximately 80 million, and the proposed 2007 budget is just over 90 million thanks to new hires, pension outlays and a possible increase in detainees and trials. With several arrest warrants yet to be executed, that looks set to rise even further in coming years.

In special circumstances, the UN can contribute funds to the court if the allocation is approved by the General Assembly. This kind of contribution might occur if the Security Council had referred a situation to the ICC for investigation.

While support for the tribunals by UN members like Russia and China has recently declined, the ICC seems to face less opposition from its donors. The members of the Assembly of States have all agreed to back the court by signing the Rome Statute. However, the tribunals and the ICC must both cope with the problem of states who no longer want to keep paying.

"In government, every three years or so, new people take over positions so government experts who set up courts and take up commitments are long gone and the new ones are left with the financial role," said Pace. "One can imagine why Asians and Latin Americans wonder why we are paying all this money for these tribunals in Africa and Europe." This occasional reluctance is countered in part by strong international support for the courts from bodies like the UN.

Pace described UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as having been "crucial and very helpful" to the tribunals and in establishing the ICC. But with the election of the new secretary-general, South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-moon, the tribunals will be attempting to finish their cases under a different regime. Pace noted that there is a "continued need for that relationship [under Ban Ki-moon]".

The new secretary-general could play a crucial role in mustering much-needed political support for the courts by endorsing funding extensions and encouraging the arrests of fugitive indictees living within UN member states' borders. Following a discussion with Ki-moon in late September, Pace said he was pleasantly surprised by his expression of support for the courts. Pace also noted Ki-moon had suggestions about how to deal with opponents of the ICC.

"The main way he described to achieve the change of policy for those governments is for the court to demonstrate that it is a fair and independent court that would not be subject to corruption or mismanagement or politically motivated cases," said Pace.

About the Author: Katherine Boyle is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

More Information on International Justice
More General Articles on Special International Criminal Tribunals
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia
More Information on the International Criminal Court


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