UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The presidents of the U.N. tribunals prosecuting alleged war criminals from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and key figures in the 1994 Rwanda genocide said Wednesday they will not meet the Security Council deadline to complete their work by the end of 2014.
Judge Theodor Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, told the council that three trials and three appeals are expected to go beyond that date, including the trial of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, which is expected to conclude by mid-2016.
Judge Vagn Joensen, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said the court has completed all trial work, and five of the six remaining appeals remain on track to be finished before the end of 2014 — but one appeal judgment isn't expected until July 2015.
He said one crucial piece of unfinished business is relocating seven people who were acquitted and three released after serving their sentences. Joensen appealed to all countries to host the 10 individuals who are still in Tanzania, where the tribunal is based, under its protection without proper immigration status.
The Security Council passed a resolution in December 2010 requesting the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals to complete their work by Dec. 31, 2014 and prepare for a smooth transition to a temporary new court that will complete all trials and appeals of the two tribunals.
The joint court, known as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, is scheduled to officially take over on July 1, but initially it will operate alongside the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals.
The Yugoslav tribunal was established in 1993 to prosecute major figures from the wars sparked by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The Rwanda tribunal was established in late 1994 following the slaughter of at least 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 100-day genocide.
Meron, who will be president of the wrap-up court, said the Yugoslav tribunal is looking for ways to advance the completion dates for all the cases. He expressed deep regret for the delays, but said the causes — including shortages of staff and judges — "are not uncommon to judicial and criminal proceedings the world over." He added that difficulties in presenting evidence are multiplied because most witnesses must be brought to The Hague, Netherlands, from thousands of kilometers (miles) away and speak different languages.
Meron said any appeals against last month's convictions of six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders for persecuting, expelling and murdering Muslims during Bosnia's war aren't expected to be completed until mid-2017, and may be heard by the wrap-up court rather than the Yugoslav tribunal.
The wrap-up court will also handle any appeals in the current trials of Mladic, Serb nationalist Vojislav Seselj who is accused of using hate-laced speeches to incite Serb atrocities in the Balkan wars, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity and Goran Hadzic, a former leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia, he said.
The new court is responsible for the enforcement of sentences, and Meron expressed concern that 17 people convicted by the Rwanda tribunal are serving sentences in Mali, which has recently been engulfed in political upheaval and fighting.
While all the main leaders sought by the Yugoslav tribunal were brought to The Hague for trial, nine fugitives indicted by the Rwanda tribunal remain at large.