Ivo Skoric on Sat, 7 Nov 1998 03:06:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Serbs Block Investigation by Tribunal in Kosovo!!!!

Yugoslavia Blocks War Crimes Investigation 

(New York, Nov. 5, 1998)-Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the Yugoslav
government for denying visas to a team of investigators from the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The tribunal submitted its visa requests to the Yugoslav authorities on October
15, days after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic promised U.S. negotiator
Richard Holbrooke that war crimes investigators would have access to Kosovo.
The tribunal's Chief Prosecutor, Louise Arbour, requested visas for herself and
a team of ten investigators to visit Kosovo and investigate allegations of war
crimes committed by both sides in the conflict between the Yugoslav authorities
and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). 

Yesterday Arbour was informed that the team would be allowed to visit only
Belgrade, not Kosovo; that only two investigators would be allowed to accompany
her and her deputy; and that the visa would permit only a single entry, for
seven days. The Yugoslav authorities further told Arbour that her team would
not be permitted to conduct any investigations during its trip to Belgrade.
The Prosecutor has declined to accept the limited visa offered.

"Once again, Slobodan Milosevic has bought himself time with empty promises,"
stated Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia
division of Human Rights Watch. "If he is allowed to get away with this, it
will be like giving him a green light to continue his repressive campaign, and
the peace process in Kosovo will be doomed before it even starts."

The Yugoslav authorities have obstructed the work of the tribunal since its
inception, harboring suspects indicted for crimes committed in Bosnia and, more
recently, refusing to accept that the tribunal has jurisdiction over crimes
committed in Kosovo. In recent statements, Yugoslav government authorities
have claimed that the International Tribunal's competence to investigate events
in Kosovo had ended upon conclusion of the Holbrooke agreements. In a
concession to Milosevic, the U.S. negotiators left out reference to the ICTY in
those agreements, referring instead to Security Council resolutions, which in
turn acknowledge the right of the tribunal to investigate in Kosovo.
"Unfortunately, the U.S.  negotiators missed a crucial opportunity-when the
threat of NATO airstrikes had Milosevic at the bargaining table-to reaffirm
Milosevic's obligation to cooperate with the tribunal," said Cartner. "Their
concession was obviously a grave error."

Yugoslav government officials have also argued that the tribunal has no rights
to investigate in Kosovo because the violence did not constitute an "armed
conflict," a requirement of tribunal jurisdiction. Human Rights Watch has
concluded that an armed conflict commenced in Kosovo on February 28, when
Serbian special police forces launched their first large-scale, military attack
on villages. From that date, the Kosovo Liberation Army and the government
were engaged in ongoing hostilities involving military offensives, front lines,
and the use of attack helicopters and heavy artillery. At times, as much as
40% of Kosovo territory was controlled by the KLA, which is an organized force
led by regional commanders, capable of organizing systematic attacks and
imposing discipline on their fighters. 

Since March, the Security Council has repeatedly called for a tribunal
investigation in Kosovo, implicitly acknowledging that an armed conflict was
taking place. On July 7, the Prosecutor explicitly stated that she had
concluded that the nature and scale of the conflict indicated that an armed
conflict was taking place. The U.S. government has also publicly endorsed this
conclusion. "There is no question that an armed conflict has been taking place
in Kosovo," Cartner said. "Moreover, such legal challenges to the tribunal's
jurisdiction should be raised before the tribunal's judges, after an indictment
has been brought and a suspect arrested, not by a government as a bar to an

Human Rights Watch has conducted three investigations to Kosovo this year and
documented serious violations, committed disproportionately by the Yugoslav
forces. The organization is particularly eager for international investigators
to reach massacre sites its researchers uncovered last month. "We have
documented the summary executions and indiscriminate shelling that have taken
the lives of hundreds of civilians and sent thousands into hiding in the
woods," stated Cartner. "But the tribunal needs to collect that evidence so
the perpetrators can be tried for their horrible crimes."

For further information, contact:
Elizabeth Andersen in New York, 12122161265 
Lotte Leicht in Brussels, 3227322009 
Fred Abrahams in Pristina, 3275528890 
Peter Bouckaert in Pristina, 3275528890

More information regarding Human Rights Watch's findings in Kosovo can be
obtained by calling 12122161845 or on the Human Rights Watch website at
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