The Hague, 19 October 2007 (FH) - As charges of false testimony or of pressuring a witness called before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda finally start to appear in Arusha, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has already tried several of these acts considered as "contempt of the tribunal". 

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Since 1993, nearly twenty cases have been brought before The Hague tribunal and several convictions have been delivered. Lawyers, defendants, witnesses and journalists have been prosecuted, creating a jurisprudence closely observed by non-governmental organizations and the International Criminal Court (CPI). Because the cases of contempt primarily relate to the protection of witnesses.
The most renowned of the cases before the ICTY led to the sentence to four months in prison, in May 2005, of Beqë Beqaj, found guilty "to have knowingly and deliberately pressured a witness". Alerted by the protected witness B1, the prosecutor had placed the telephone of the latter under surveillance, and intercepted a call from Beqë Beqaj and concluded that he had acted on behalf of two defendants, the Albanian commanders from Kosovo Fatmir Limaj and Isaak Musliu.
Strangely, the two men were later acquitted of the charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, notably for lack of relevant evidence presented by the prosecution. However, in this case, as in that presently against Ramush Haradinaj, the former Prime Minister of Kosovo, the prosecutor has to issue tens of summonses to appear and faced witnesses that became mute on the stand.
In September, the prosecutor opened an investigation, still in progress, for contempt, after a witness refused to answer the prosecution's questions, and then left the Netherlands at night, between two hearings.
In addition to this case, several lawyers were prosecuted for having revealed the names of protected witnesses. Sentenced to pay 4000 Dutch guilders, the lawyer of General Blaskic, Ante Nobilo, his fine was lowered in appeal. The defendant Dusko Tadic had asked for, without success, the revision of his trial after the sentence of his lawyer, Milan Vujin, to pay 15 000 guilders, for intimidation of witnesses.
More recently, The Hague tribunal prosecuted six Croatian journalists, accused of having revealed the identity of a protected witnesses and the contents of closed session hearings. Among these defendants, Josip Jovic, editor of the weekly magazine Slobodna Dalmacija, was sentenced to pay 20 000 euros. The journalist had published extracts of the closed session testimony of Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, who had testified under a pseudonym in the trial of General Blaskic.
But the severity of the sentence, which can go up to seven years in prison and 100 000 euros in fine, especially aimed at punishing these provocations towards the tribunal. Josip Jovic had received an order from the judges to cease any publication, but the journalist had denounced in his columns a decision "filled with arrogance" qualified as "aggression against law" and a few days later had published, "in spite of the incurred risks", new extracts of the closed session testimony of the Croatian president. The judges had estimated that it "does not belong to persons, not even journalists, to decide to publish, with the contempt of such orders, of information of which they estimate are of public interest ".
However, the decision of the judges also reveals the abuses observed within the two tribunals in the protection procedures concerning the representatives of countries called to testify and protected by "national security". If tomorrow, "Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton or Paul Kagame were to testify on the witness' stand, under a pseudonym and in closed session, the orders of the tribunal would undoubtedly fall on deaf ears", assures a journalist.
The prosecution for contempt also occasionally demonstrated ruthless practices. Thus, in the Milosevic case, the witness Kosta Bulatovic had been prosecuted for having refused, with vehemence, to be questioned by the prosecutor, a question "of honour" he asserted, in the absence of Slobodan Milosevic, then sick. Instead of judging the case as being "red handed", the judges had led a conventional trial, without worrying about being at the same time judges and parties to the case, and the man was sentenced to four months in prison and two years probation, without the appeal judges finding, later, matter for conflict of interest.
For the tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, the prosecutions for contempt aim at "protecting the interests of justice". Before the ad hoc tribunals, Nuremberg had already planned to sanction "the disturbers". But have disturbers never pressed the tribunal in Arusha? If several investigations were opened, none has, to date, led to a conviction. In the Kajelijeli case, the judges had estimated, in 2001, that any interference with the witnesses could be sanctioned "only if it is abusive". An interpretation that is very different from that used at the ICTY.

© Hirondelle News Agency