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Tribunal denounced for freeing Croatians

Russia denounced a U.N. tribunal Wednesday for undermining international justice by freeing two Croatian generals and Kosovo’s ex-prime minister who were accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity against Serbs.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council that the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia demonstrated “neither fairness nor effectiveness” in last month’s release of generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, which was quickly followed by the release of ex-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and two of his former Kosovo Liberation Army comrades.

As a result, Churkin said, no one has been held accountable for murdering and expelling Serb civilians during a 1995 Croatian military offensive or for murdering and torturing Serbs and their supporters in Kosovo’s war for independence.

Gotovina and Markac, the most senior Croatian officers convicted of war crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, were freed by the tribunal’s appeals chamber, which overturned their convictions for killing and deporting Serbs in a Croatian military blitz known as Operation Storm that drove thousands of Serbs from their homes and left hundreds dead.

Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, and his comrades were acquitted of crimes against humanity for the second time for allegedly murdering and torturing Serbs and their supporters in Kosovo’s fight for independence.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following a bloody civil war in 1999 that began with a brutal Serb crackdown on separatist Kosovo Albanians.

The court’s prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, told the Security Council that serious crimes were documented in both cases and the victims “have the right to justice.”

He encouraged national authorities in the region “to continue the fight against impunity.”

In the case of the Croatian generals, Churkin said Russia was “surprised how blithely, even carelessly, a 3-2 vote quashed the unanimous verdict at trial, one justified by many years of investigation.”

He said that in the view of Russia, which has close cultural and religious ties to the Serbs, “justice was not done — as stated by one of the (appeals) judges in dissent.”

Churkin said a similar assessment is merited in the acquittals in the Haradinaj case where he alleged that “witnesses were subjected to unabashed blackmail and intimidation.”

Both verdicts “discredit the idea of international criminal justice,” he said.

“Faith and the chance of restoring peace through international justice has been substantially undermined.”

Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called the two verdicts “grotesque” and told the Security Council that his country’s “faith in international justice has suffered a severest possible blow,” especially as a result of the “shameful” Gotovina and Markac decision.

He said the tribunal’s main goal was to contribute to peace and reconciliation in the Balkans.

“In its more than a decade of existence, it has convicted a number of former Serbian political and military leaders for war crimes. At the same time, it has failed to convict a single senior official from Croatia or Bosnia, and it has failed to convict a single senior Kosovo Albanian official for war crimes or crimes against humanity,” Vucic said.

“By the recent judgment,” he said, “the Serbian nation has therefore been singled out as the sole perpetrator of such acts, and as the sole people responsible for the terrible violence that engulfed the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.”

In response to the tribunal’s actions, Vucic told the council that Serbia will continue co-operating with the tribunal but only “on the technical level.”

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said he was “alarmed” by Serbia’s announcement that it will reduce its co-operation with the tribunal and called on all countries to co-operate with the court “to the fullest extent.” He defended the tribunal for its independence and for consistently upholding “high standards of justice ... including the right of appeal.”

Churkin vowed to ensure that the tribunal’s work is completed as called for by the council by Dec. 31, 2014, expressing dismay that one trial is not scheduled to finish until 2017.

 
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