The IBA Advises on Draft Legislation for the Conduct of War Crimes Trials in Serbia and Montenegro

Today, in Belgrade, a delegation of international jurists, assembled by the International Bar Association (IBA), will meet government officials from Serbia and Montenegro to discuss the drafting of legislation enabling war crime trials to be conducted domestically. To ensure that the trials are regarded as fair, and that they meet international standards, the IBA has been asked to act in an advisory capacity to the Serbia and Montenegro Government.

The international panel of experts, drawn from both academia and the bench, have been brought together to review the draft law, and include Antonio Cassesse, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; Justice Richard Goldstone, former chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; Natasa Kandic, founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade; and Professor William Schabas, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland.

In cooperation with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, some of the IBA’s experts have travelled to Belgrade to present their findings direct to the Ministry of Justice and to discuss with officials their experience of similar laws.

The decision to draft a new law creating a Special War Crimes Court is welcomed by the IBA, as it will avert the problem of overloading Serbia and Montenegro’s current court system by folding alleged war crime atrocities into the existing Law on the Suppression of Organised Crime. The Court will have the authority to prosecute and try serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia. The four groups of offences are: grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; violations of the laws or customs of war; genocide; and crimes against humanity.

The IBA’s Executive Director, Mark Ellis, says, ‘one of the greatest challenges facing the new democratic Serbia is to come to terms with the atrocities committed by the previous government over the years in the former Yugoslavia’. He added, ‘we have greatly welcomed the Serbian Government’s openness to seeking international advice and expertise in shaping a new law to create a mechanism for domestic war crime trials’.

Alongside providing comment on the draft legislation, the IBA is beginning another programme of training to facilitate domestic trials for war crimes. This is part of the IBA’s commitment to the advancement of Serbia and Montenegro’s judicial processes, and will cover important elements of conducting these specific trials. As in 2001, select groups will receive training on issues comprising substantive and procedural law relevant to prosecuting individuals alleged to have committed gross violations of international law. The four groups are: judges; prosecutors (including Special Prosecutors and their deputies); defence attorneys; and police investigators. The training will be conducted separately for each targeted group but, when appropriate, will be conducted jointly on issues relevant to all groups.