Leading prosecutors and judges of the two United Nations war crime tribunals warned the Security Council today that continued lack of cooperation by certain governments could derail their efforts to complete their work on time.
Briefing the Council on the "completion strategy" of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the prosecutors said they were close to meeting their targets, but pleaded that some states were unwilling or unable to assist them in arresting and transferring the suspects.
"There are still 20 fugitives at large," ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told the Council. "Delays in the arrest and transfer of these fugitives make the planning of the trial more complicated and undermine judicial efficiency."
Ms. Del Ponte said the Serbian Government had "deliberately chosen" to ignore its legal obligations and continued to adopt a defiant attitude towards the Tribunal, adding that Belgrade remained "the single-most obstacle in the implementation of the completion strategy."
ICTY President Judge Theodor Meron agreed with Ms. Del Ponte. "At the moment, there is a wide variation in the several states' willingness to cooperate with the Tribunal," he said. "There has been no serious effort by the Republika Srpska authorities to locate and arrest fugitives."
Both Judge Meron and Ms. Del Ponte also voiced grave concern about the Tribunal's ability to carry out its task with the existing resources at hand.
"It is absolutely essential that the Tribunal have adequate personnel to stay abreast of its steadily increasing workload," said Judge Meron. "It is becoming increasingly difficult to continue to promote internally to senior levels without compromising professional standards," added Ms. Del Ponte.
In their briefings, both the Prosecutor and the President of the Rwanda Tribunal said they were making progress on schedule, but expressed their worries about the possible adverse impact of the shortage of resources on the success of the completion strategy.
"While 2004 has seen some progress registered in the preparation and trial of the cases," said Prosecutor Hassan Jallow, "it will be a great challenge to sustain this progress and deal with the anticipated increased load whilst we continue to suffer the recruitment freeze."
For his part, ICTR President Judge Erik Møse told the Council: "We have been able to keep the trials going. But the situation is critical."
Judge Møse said more than 80 staff had left the Tribunal since the freeze was imposed on hiring.
Noting that arrests and transfer of indicted fugitives continued to be "fraught with difficulties," the Tribunal officials urged Member States to live up to their legal obligations.
They said the Tribunal tried several times to approach the Democratic Republic of the Congo for dialogue on the issue of arrests of fugitives, but got no response. It is believed that many suspects of Rwanda war crimes are hiding in neighbouring country.