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As court for ex-Yugoslavia closes its doors, work remains to be done: court president

As the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) closes its doors, the quest for justice for victims of the Bosnian War in the 1990s should continue, said Judge Carmel Agius, president of the tribunal, on Wednesday.

"The achievements of the ICTY do not begin and end in The Hague," he said, referring to the seat of the tribunal. "The completion of our work, and of our restricted mandate as a court of law, does not mean that the job is done."

"It is with a heavy heart that I leave the tribunal, deeply disturbed by the huge numbers of crimes yet to be prosecuted before domestic courts in the former Yugoslavia, and by the thousands of victims who continue to cry for justice," he told the UN Security Council.

After 24 years of work, the ICTY will close its doors at the end of the year.

While it is commendable to see that many cases have been adjudicated through special war crimes courts, and that specialized war crimes prosecutors continue to investigate and bring charges against perpetrators, much more needs to be done, he said, asking the United Nations to continue to support the relevant institutions and actors on the ground.

He warned that the rise of revisionism and nationalism throughout the region cannot be ignored. "Do not delude yourselves; the absence of war does not mean peace – particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where political conflict and unrest reign."

"I therefore urge the international community to assure those of all ethnicities throughout the region that they will not be abandoned after the tribunal's closure, and to keep to that promise," said Agius.

He further stressed that the work to end impunity for mass crimes is not the preserve of any one institution, but rather a common goal and aspiration for the whole mankind. "We at the tribunal have made our contribution, and indeed the tribunal spurred on the creation of other courts and tribunals. However, the international community must take steps to ensure that the contributions of these institutions are not undermined, or even reversed, by a lack of political support, and that their legacies are preserved."

He lauded the ICTY as a success story. "Despite all the skeptics, the naysayers, the deniers who, from the very beginning, embarked on a campaign against the tribunal and have been at pains to question our legitimacy and integrity, and portray a doomsday scenario, I am proud to appear before this esteemed council today and say: mission accomplished."

The setting up of the ICTY was a powerful signal that the international community would not stand idly by and watch while barbaric acts were perpetrated far away in the former Yugoslavia, he said. "You, the members of this organization, decided that heinous crimes such as rape, torture, ethnic cleansing, and the wanton killing of civilians affect each and every one of us, simply because they imperil the great principles of civilization, as protected by the rule of law and enshrined in internationally recognized standards of human rights and humanitarian law."

The ICTY was established by a Security Council resolution in 1993. In the past 24 years, 161 persons were indicted. After the closure of the ICTY by yearend, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals will take over the residual functions of the tribunal such as oversight of sentences and consideration of appeal proceedings.

[Source: Xinhua, United Nations, 06Dec17]

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