- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

NEW YORK — U.N. member nations, frustrated with the cost and slow pace of war-crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, are so far behind in payments that the tribunals have had to dip into the U.N. peacekeeping accounts to sustain their prosecutions.

With only six weeks left before the end of the year, an unprecedented 123 nations out of 191 owe money to the tribunals. Of these, 103 nations have not yet paid a penny.

The $96 million shortfall has forced officials to borrow $41 million from the peacekeeping accounts this year, the second time they have had to do so.

“It’s extremely worrying because these tribunals have very large budgets and because … shortfalls in the cash flow could impact very much on the prosecutorial, investigative and judicial activities,” said Ralph Zacklin, undersecretary-general for legal affairs.

Mr. Zacklin said diplomats have expressed frustration with the slow pace of justice, as well the tribunals’ combined running cost, which has reached $1.3 billion.

“They are extremely expensive, bloated in a sense. It takes your breath away,” Mr. Zacklin said last week. “[Diplomats] are asking, ‘What have we got for that money?’

“If, at the end of the day, you’ve only got 50 to 60 trials, you come to the conclusion that you could spend that money another way.”

The tribunals were created by the U.N. Security Council in 1993 (Rwanda) and 1994 (Yugoslavia) to prosecute war crimes, genocide and other wartime atrocities whose horror exceeded the ability of shattered national courts to adjudicate.

Each tribunal costs more than $100 million a year, and employs more than 1,100 staffers and long-term contractors.

Contributions to the tribunals’ budgets are calculated on a formula based on each country’s peacekeeping and regular budget obligations. The U.N. Charter requires that payments be completed by the end of January.

Among those nations that have not contributed to the tribunals are Bosnia-Herzegovina, the site of the worst Balkan atrocities, and Serbia and Montenegro, Slobodan Milosevic’s stronghold, which has always had a sour relationship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Other nations that have not yet contributed this year include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Slovenia, Spain, Uganda and Vietnam.

Japan is the largest debtor with a balance of $41 million. The United States and Brazil each owe $12 million, according to U.N. figures.

Washington, which has already paid $52.5 million to the tribunals, disputes the amount outstanding. U.S. officials say they have a balance of only $4.5 million, with the remainder subject to a contested assessment in peacekeeping.

Japanese diplomats did not return phone calls. But other diplomats suggest that an economic downturn has affected Tokyo’s ability to pay. In addition, Japan has pledged to fund a still-stalled tribunal for Cambodia.

Several others said they want to pay, but can’t afford to now.

The need to borrow money from recently closed U.N. peacekeeping missions — such as the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission, on the Iraq-Kuwait border — has outraged some contributors who have long demanded prompt payment for the use of troops and materiel.

In late October, the Group of 77 developing nations warned that the United Nations was taking too long to reimburse contributors to peacekeeping missions, and complained about the cross-borrowing.

Catherine Bertini, the U.N. budget czar, told them that if they paid their assessments in full, the organization wouldn’t have to dip into other accounts.

Borrowing from peacekeeping “is not unprecedented, but it wasn’t good last year, either,” Miss Bertini said. “There are so many countries that have not paid, that it begs the question why. This I don’t know. But I think it’s a very serious issue vis-a-vis support for the tribunal.”

The Bush administration outraged legal experts last year when it began pressuring the tribunal administrators to wind things down, with a goal of completing all trials by 2008 and appeals by 2010.

In response, the Balkan tribunal has begun plea-bargaining with many of those indicted, offering reduced sentences in exchange for admissions of guilt and a sizable accounting of their actions.

International-law experts, scholars and victims’ rights groups have complained, saying that the cost-cutting measure cheats justice and leaves historians with an incomplete record of the Balkan and Rwandan atrocities.

Theodor Meron, the American who was just re-elected as the president of the ICTY, acknowledged these concerns in an October briefing to the U.N. Security Council.

But, he said, in some cases, “a forthright and specific admission of guilt may offer victims as much, or even more, consolation than would a conviction following repeated protestations of innocence.”

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