Statement by Mr.Petr Illiichev, First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council on the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals
Today the Security Council is preparing for the last time to discuss the report (S/2017/662) on the International Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which will finally terminate its activities on 31 December after numerous delays.
The Council’s establishment of the Tribunal in 1993 was a very daring step on its part. At the time, we all assumed that a body established under the Council’s auspices would play a role as an impartial instrument of justice and would contribute both to the process of reconciliation in the region and to the development of international criminal law as a whole. Today, 24 years later, we are compelled to state definitively that the Tribunal has unfortunately not been up to its tasks.
The ICTY has been a glaring illustration of the existence of double standards. The Tribunal has been unable to become the impartial and independent body that the interests of genuine rather than selective justice demand. It is revealing that during the totality of its existence, an absolute majority of those sentenced by the ICTY were Serbs — more than 60 per cent, who between them were sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison.
The Tribunal’s adoption of a basically one-sided anti-Serbian approach to the tragic events of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia not only did not encourage implementation of the basic principle of the inevitability of punishment for war crimes, it also undermined the process of re-establishing mutual trust in the Balkans. Ratko Mladić’s recent sentence was a continuation of this biased, politicized attitude.
The other side of this issue is the series of acquittals of defendants from among the representatives of other parties to the conflict. Among others, former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders went unpunished. The scandalousness of the proceedings is a well-known fact. It was the first time in the history of international justice that witnesses were subjected to barefaced blackmail and intimidation on such a scale. Not to mention that these actions took place in an atmosphere of complete impunity and with the connivance of the international presences in Kosovo.
The ICTY consistently turned a blind eye to the unlawful nature of the NATO military operations in the Balkans. We should remind the Council that that resulted in civilian deaths and general large-scale destruction. Nobody was held responsible for those barbarities. The Tribunal fell far short of generally accepted standards for ensuring an appropriate judicial timetable and the fundamental right to life, health care and a fair trial of the accused.
For example, the ICTY will go down in history as the court that had to keep Vojislav Šešelj in pre-trial detention for more than 11 years in order to finally sentence him. The number of defendants who died while under the Tribunal’s jurisdiction speaks to the level of medical care given to prisoners. The death of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague was truly shocking, and unfortunately not the only example. Astonishingly, despite being unable to provide adequate care and treatment for the accused, the Tribunal repeatedly denied the defence’s petitions for their temporary release for medical treatment in Russia, despite our provision of thorough guarantees.
Ratko Mladić’s recent petition was no exception. His lawyers also sent an appeal to the Secretary-General in that regard, which we hope will be very carefully considered. The final stage of the Tribunal’s work did not conclude without tragedy. Slobodan Praljak committed suicide in the courtroom itself, raising serious questions about security and the conditions for detainees.
The Tribunal twice failed to meet the deadlines set by the Security Council. In its resolutions, the Council not only repeatedly asked the Tribunal not delay its proceedings but also to review the timetables for considering cases with a view to shortening them. That did not happen. In the past two years, the new leadership of the Tribunal has managed to prevent any new delays and cope with the consequences of staff departures, showing that proper planning for legal proceedings is possible in practice and that the explanations of previous years were nothing more than excuses.
The work of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will be analysed by historians and criminal-law experts. For our part, we are convinced that a great many of its decisions have discredited the very notion of international justice. Many of the ICTY’s actions have created mutual mistrust among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. As a result, the hopes that peace can be restored through the dispensing of justice have been significantly undermined.
We doubt that it would be worthwhile for the Security Council to repeat the experiment of creating similar tribunals in the future. Our delegation shares the opinion of the leadership of the ICTY on the lessons to be learned from the activities of the Tribunal. For that reason, we intend to closely monitor all the proceedings in the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, including during the Council’s upcoming review of its activities.
As we have frequently stated, based on resolution 1966 (2010), the Residual Mechanism is a provisional structure with a strictly limited mandate, and not a new international tribunal. That is why its official title includes the word “residual”. We also expect the leadership and staff of the Residual Mechanism will focus on the speedy completion of the matters assigned to them following the closure of the ICTY, with maximum effectiveness and strict adherence to judicial standards, including where the timetable for legal proceedings is concerned.
The Council’s review of the Residual Mechanism in 2018 is extremely important, and the extension of the Mechanism’s work for the next two years will depend on it. We urge the Council to approach it very seriously. In general, we believe that while the Mechanism is starting to review the relevant appeals, it is also time that the Council thought about approaches to ending its activities.