The departing chief justice of the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia lashed out at the U.N. Security Council today, saying it has ignored its responsibility to compel Serbia and Croatia to turn over suspected war criminals.
"It is time for this complacency to cease," Gabrielle Kirk McDonald said in her parting speech. "We have no police force or means of coercing states to follow our orders. We need your support."
McDonald, a 57-year-old civil rights lawyer and former district judge in Texas, has headed the tribunal since it was established by the United Nations six years ago. Her successor is expected to be chosen next week by a secret ballot of the tribunal's 14 remaining judges.
The court, headquartered in the Hague, has publicly indicted 91 people for war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity during the recent wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. An unknown number have been indicted secretly. Eight have been convicted, and 32 are in custody awaiting trial.
McDonald chastised the 15-member Security Council, of which the United States is a permanent member, for failing to secure the arrest of prominent suspects, such as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
She later told reporters that Western troops have grown more assertive in pursuing war criminals since the mid-1990s, when international peacekeepers were seen drinking coffee alongside indicted war criminals in Bosnian cafes. But she singled out France, which controls the Bosnian Serb town of Pale where Karadzic is believed to be living, for not arresting him.
In a case that she said illustrated the reluctance to chase war criminals, McDonald said she had made two personal appeals, and four more in writing, to the Security Council to compel the Serbian leadership to turn over three Serbs, known as the Vukovar Three, who are wanted for war crimes in Croatia. The council, she said, "has done nothing."
She added that Croatia, which has friendly relations with the United States, and ethnic Serbian leaders in Bosnia also have shirked their responsibility to turn over suspected war criminals.
McDonald conceded that her office has its own shortcomings. She said suspects are languishing in jail in the Hague while the court slowly plows through a backlog of cases, and she recommended the "provisional release" of some suspected war criminals. She also suggested establishing a stable of temporary judges who could be called upon to speed up the court's work.
"The Security Council established the tribunal. It's our parent, and parents have responsibilities," she said. "You don't give birth to a child and then leave the child to fend for itself."