UN meeting on justice sparks Jordanian boycott
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United States, Canada and Jordan are boycotting a meeting on international criminal justice organized by the president of the General Assembly because it won't include victims of the Bosnian war and will likely attack the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Jordan's U.N. ambassador said Wednesday.
Prince Zeid al Hussein said he was told that the Americans and Canadians would boycott and that he was very pleased. He said other European countries are checking with their capitals.
Zeid said that while assembly president Vuk Jeremic, the former foreign minister of Serbia, is presiding over Wednesday's assembly meeting, he and Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador Christian Wenewaser will be hosting a press conference for two victims groups -- the Mothers of Srebrenica and the Association of Witnesses and Survivors of Genocide.
The main speakers at the high-level assembly session are Jeremic, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Bosnian Serb member of the country's presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, and Serbia's ultranationalist President Tomislav Nikolic.
During the 1990s Balkan wars, Nikolic was deputy leader of the extremist Serbian Radical Party which was even more hardline than late strongman Slobodan Milosevic -- who plunged the region into its ethnic conflagration. Nikolic was also a disciple of Vojislav Seselj, a firebrand right-wing politician who at the closing session of his war crimes trial at The Hague, Netherlands, last month retold the history of the war from a Serb perspective.
Seselj said that Serbs had been subjected to a "genocide" during the war. The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has held that while atrocities were committed by all sides, genocide was only committed by Bosnian Serbs, including the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995. Seselj told the court that Serb military action was justified to defend ethnic Serbs in Croatia.
Zeid, who was a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia and served from 2002 to 2005 as the first president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, said Tuesday he has been encouraging other countries in the 193-nation General Assembly to boycott Wednesday's assembly meeting.
"My delegation is boycotting the session tomorrow out of a sense of indignation at the way the president of the General Assembly has exploited his position and this important theme, which is the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation, for the purposes we suspect of launching an unmerited attack by the Serbian Radical Party against the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia," the Jordanian ambassador said.
"We believe it is our duty to create a space so the voices of the victims of the Bosnian war could also be heard," Zeid said.
In Sarajevo, the head of the Mothers of Srebrenica, Munira Subasic, said she was coming to New York although she was not invited to speak at the assembly meeting.
"Vuk Jeremic has not thought of either Bosniaks or Croats," she said. "He only invited the Serb side and people who don't even know who is who in Bosnia."
Subasic said Jeremic was holding the meeting "to present to people that the Serbs are the biggest victims because most of the sentences in The Hague were pronounced against Serbs."
Wenewaser expressed concern that Jeremic "is exploiting the General Assembly to pursue his own political goals, which is clearly not what he ought to do as the president of the General Assembly."
"It's very sad that it's a lost opportunity to advance international criminal justice," said Wenewaser, who also served as president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court. "He has refused to make this a comprehensive event that covers international criminal justice in all its aspects. He's interested in one tribunal and that's a complete distortion of what's been happening over the last 20 years."
According to the tentative list of speakers, the meeting, which will continue Thursday, will also hear speeches from the ministers of justice from Namibia and Rwanda and about 40 ambassadors. On Wednesday afternoon, there will be panels on justice and reconciliation.
Among those invited who declined to attend are David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; President of the International Criminal Court Song Sang-Hyun and President of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court Tina Intelmann.
Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, wrote in the Huffington Post Tuesday that the creation of the Yugoslav tribunal nearly 20 years ago "moved the goal posts in enforcing fundamental human rights, and the broader efforts toward international justice are rewriting key rules of international relations and diplomacy."
He said a more constructive way has to be found to debate these and other lessons.