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The Hague thrives as international justice booms

Written by: Staff
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THE HAGUE, Apr 10: Slobodan Milosevic's cell may not be empty for long. The death of the former Yugoslav president was a brief setback in what is otherwise a boom time for international justice and its capital, The Hague.

Milosevic's death in custody deprived the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of a verdict in the trial of its highest-profile suspect, but others should take his place soon in The Hague, including former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

''The tribunal can absolutely survive the death of Milosevic,'' said Avril McDonald from the TMC Asser Institute, an organisation which researches law, in The Hague.

''There is so much going on at the moment.'' Hopes are growing that Serbia will arrest top fugitive Ratko Mladic, indicted for genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

The European Union has given Belgrade until the end of April to surrender the Bosnian Serb former general or risk a freeze on talks leading up to membership of the 25-nation bloc.

Even if Mladic remains at large, the tribunal is busier than ever after the arrival of a flood of suspects in the past year.

In August, it plans to launch a combined trial of Bosnian Serbs charged with genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The week after Milosevic died, the new International Criminal Court (ICC) -- also based in The Hague -- received its first suspect, Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga.

Set up in 2002 as the first permanent court to try individuals for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, the ICC also looks set to play host to former Liberian President Taylor, arrested in Nigeria last month and sent for trial to Sierra Leone.

The UN-backed court for Sierra Leone has asked to move Taylor's trial to The Hague from Freetown, fearing his supporters could provoke unrest in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role backing rebels who raped and mutilated civilians and recruited child soldiers during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.

MOMENTUM GATHERS

The seat of the Dutch government and royal family, The Hague has been a centre for international law since it hosted a peace conference in 1899 that led to the founding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, set up to settle disputes between states. Besides the arbitration court, the ICC and the Yugoslavia tribunal, The Hague is home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- the U.N.'s highest legal body which celebrates its 60th anniversary on April 12.

The courts employ hundreds of legal heavyweights from around the world, such as U.N. chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte who investigated organised crime in Switzerland and ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who brought Argentine army commanders to justice for mass killings and other human rights abuses.

The ICC's first arrest and the possibility of it hosting the Taylor trial represent a major advance for a court fiercely opposed by the United States, which fears it will be abused for political prosecutions of its soldiers and citizens.

''People need to see that it's a success before they sign up to it,'' said international law expert McDonald. ''You have to reach a certain critical mass. It's a question of momentum.'' Janet Anderson from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said US neo-conservatives were still opposed to the ICC but noted that Washington was taking a more pragmatic approach to the court, most crucially by not blocking a Security Council referral to the ICC of crimes in Sudan's Darfur region: ''There is realpolitik about the fact that the ICC exists,'' she said. ''It is because it is permanent. It's not a temporary tribunal. It's got this huge, broad mandate.'' Elsewhere, international law is breaking new ground.

The United Nations is considering setting up a special court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, killed by a bomb in Beirut last year.

Iraq, which is trying Saddam Hussein in a national court, has drawn on the experience of international tribunals.

Global justice has come a long way since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of Nazi and Japanese leaders after World War Two.

Rosalyn Higgins, the president of the ICJ which deals with disputes between states, says international law is flourishing in an era of relative peace since the end of the Cold War.

''Globalisation means that we understand more and more that what any one of us does as a state has its impact on other states,'' the British judge said.

LEGAL CAPITAL

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will attend the ICJ's 60th anniversary in its imposing home -- the towering red-brick Peace Palace, built a century ago to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration and paid for by US industrialist Andrew Carnegie. While the war crimes trials of leaders such as Milosevic tend to attract most attention, Higgins said inter-state justice is equally important. The ICJ is hearing a landmark case brought by Bosnia against Serbia, accusing it of sponsoring genocide.

''We are getting more and more cutting-edge or hot issues,'' she said. ''There is more to international life than villains.'' Elected in February as the first female president of the court, Higgins wants to develop networks between global courts.

''We all have our friends in the other courts,'' she said. ''I would like to systemise these contacts.'' This activity is good news for the city of The Hague.

International organisations accounted for about 5 per cent of employment in The Hague in 2004 and contributed about 6 per cent of the city's economic output.

The city presented a report to the Dutch government last year to recommend investing almost 1 billion euros to entrench its position as the self-pro-claimed legal capital of the world.

''We are paying more and more attention to the environment and the atmosphere. We want an international legal atmosphere,'' Hague Mayor Wim Deetman told Reuters at a packed reception for legal experts attending a conference on peace and justice.

''The inhabitants of The Hague know we are a city of peace, justice and security. This has become a part of The Hague.''

REUTERS

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