- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

THE HAGUE As hotels go, this isn't so bad.

Each room has a single bed, private bath, built-in shelves and a coffee pot. The window gets plenty of light and some rooms have a view of the North Sea. There's cable TV, of course, and plenty of room for the laptop.

However, these 48 nearly identical rooms are not inside a Dutch resort. They are in a U.N. detention center for those accused of some of the most vicious crimes in human history.

This seaside facility in Scheveningen, near The Hague, is one of two holding centers built by the United Nations in the past seven years in response to world outrage over atrocities committed in the Balkans and Rwanda. The other holding center is in Arusha, Tanzania.

The residents, all indicted war criminals, are held in the facilities sometimes for years while awaiting trial before the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

The weight room at the Scheveningen facility is well equipped and there's an outdoor jogging track. A large common area is spacious enough for family gatherings and features a well-appointed kitchen, card tables and reading areas. There's a medical wing, where guests may see specialists, take emotional counseling, and even get a customized physical therapy regime.

They wear their own clothes, visit privately with their wives, and may elect to take English classes or art lessons inside the U.N. facility.

Tim McFadden, a genial Irishman who formerly ran a politically charged prison in Northern Ireland, bristles when asked if it isn't all a little too nice.

"Innocent until proven guilty," he said. "We must put in place conditions that resemble normal life as much as possible, while at the same time forbidding them to go home at night.

"My job is to make these men as comfortable as possible."

These facilities were built under U.N. contracts, are mostly policed by U.N. guards, are subject to U.N. rules and are paid for by U.N. member states.

U.N. officials said they could not provide an estimate of the cost to operate the Dutch detention facility.

However some quick calculations using available figures for 1999 $227 per night or $82,800 annually per cell, multiplied by 50 cells yields a figure of more than $3 million.

The Arusha facility costs less than half as much, $98 per day or $35,700 annually per cell, because costs such as utilities and salaries are much less in Tanzania, said Rwandan tribunal spokesman Tom Kennedy.

The United States pays about one-third of the U.N. tribunal's annual $174 million budget.

The United Nations never set out to get a piece of the corrections industry. But when the organization created its landmark war-crimes tribunals in 1993 for the Balkans and in 1994 for Rwanda, it needed a secure place to house the accused during the lengthy trial process.

Since then, the United Nations also has found itself operating prisons for garden-variety thieves and murderers in Kosovo and East Timor, both places where the world body has assumed transitional authority.

The Scheveningen facility was tucked inside an existing Dutch prison, while the Rwandan war criminals are housed in a custom-built center near a prison complex in Arusha.

Conditions in Rwanda are about the same, or even nicer, than those at Scheveningen, say those who have been inside both.

"In Rwanda, they have gardens," said David Scheffer, the State Department's ambassador for war crimes issues. "The men there can grow vegetables if they want."

Most of the 78 men and one woman in custody at the two facilities have been given laptop computers by their defense attorneys, but Internet access is forbidden, said Mr. McFadden. They also can visit freely among themselves and confer with their lawyers as often as they like.

Mr. McFadden, who designed the Arusha detention facility and now runs the one in Scheveningen, said the comfort of the detention centers is appropriate.

"These detainees have held high office in public life, very high up, with many privileges attached and they are experiencing the denial of freedom at a later time in life.

"Many of them feel that what they were doing, or said they were doing, was central to their doing their duty, and now how is it looked at," as a crime, he said of the military leaders, politicians and prominent businessmen who now find themselves locked up.

The International Committee of the Red Cross which inspects prison conditions for hundreds of thousands of political and conflict-related prisoners worldwide has toured both U.N. detention facilities, but refuses to comment on its findings.

According to U.N. accounts, the facilities were considered in keeping with internationally accepted norms.

Nonetheless, reporters are not permitted inside.

"Its a detention facility, not a zoo," said Paul Risley, spokesman for Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He said the court's registrar, which oversees administrative aspects of the tribunal's activities, have not even permitted him to glimpse inside.

By comparison, genocide suspects in Rwanda are in prisons so dangerously overcrowded and filthy that they are widely considered to violate humanitarian standards.

Mr. McFadden winces at a discussion of Rwanda prisons, which he disparages in the harshest terms. The prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic and antiquated.

His own detainees are far more fortunate.

The guests, as they are known, and their lawyers seem to appreciate the situation.

"My client would be in the best prison in Zagreb, and this is much better," said one Croatian defense attorney, whose client held in the Dutch facility was appealing a guilty verdict on several counts. "And I don't think he'd get cable there."

The detention facilities are such a point of pride for tribunal officials that when Mirjana Markov, wife of Slobodan Milosevic, called the lockup a "sophisticated replacement for concentration camps and crematoria," Ms. del Ponte retorted that the Milosevics should come to The Hague and "see how comfortable it is."

Despite the modern conditions and tender care, the Balkan tribunal was rocked by two deaths in 1998, just six weeks apart.

Former Vukovar Mayor Slavko Dokmanovic hanged himself from his necktie in his cell after the tribunal found him guilty of killing more than 200 unarmed men who were taken from a local hospital in November 1991.

A few weeks later, Bosnian Serb Milan Kovacevic died in his cell after suffering an aneurysm, despite emergency medical treatment. At the time the former anesthesiologist was on trial, accused of helping to exterminate thousands of Muslims and Croats in concentration camps in the Prijedor region.

Serbian media quickly began calling the two men "martyrs for the Serb cause," and aggressively smeared the tribunal as incapable of holding fair trials or looking after their detainees.

Mr. McFadden said that despite Yugoslav allegations, an internal inquiry "found everything was handled properly."

"Dokmanovic was always in a deep depression; he was always treated as a special case. And Dr. Kovacevic would have died even if he was in Prijedor," he said.

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