Turtle Bay

Exclusive: U.S. to boycott UNGA session that revisits the Balkans’ bloody past

Exclusive: U.S. to boycott UNGA session that revisits the Balkans’ bloody past

The Obama administration, Canada, and possibly other governments will boycott a U.N. General Assembly session being convened tomorrow on international justice because of concern that the Serbian president of the U.N. body will use the event to bash the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, according to senior U.N. diplomats.

The U.S. snub comes one week after Jordan’s U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, a former U.N. political officer in Bosnia in the 1990s, announced plans in this blog to boycott the event. It comes as Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic , is scheduled to arrive in New York city tomorrow to open the day-long thematic debate, entitled "The Role of International Justice in Reconciliation."

The United States declined to comment on its plans. But Zeid confirmed that the United States and Canada intend to forgo the event. "I am very pleased the United States, Canada, and possibly others are boycotting," the event,  Zeid told Turtle Bay tonight.

Vuk Jeremic, a former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the 193-member General Assembly, decided to organize the conference late last year, following the acquittal by an appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. The  two men had been convicted lower court of carrying out mass atrocities against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in the Kraijina region of Croatia.

The timing of the U.N. event — the meeting coincides with the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state — has fueled concerns among many delegates that the event will be used to bash the tribunal.

Jeremic, an outspoken critic of the ICTY, said that the debate would not be restricted to a debate on the Balkans, and that governments could debate any aspect of international justice they chose.

In an interview tonight, Jeremic  said that the United States had not informed him of its plans for tomorrow’s event. "If it is true it would be highly regrettable," he said. "Eighty countries have signed up to speak, either directly or as a group, and we expect many more to be present."

"I think this topic is worth debating," he said. "Therefore I find it highly regrettable if some countries chose to boycott."

The Yugoslav court, which has indicted more than 90 Serbian nationals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, has been unpopular among many Serbs, who feel it has gone too soft on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim war criminals. Jeremic has been a staunch critic.

Last week, Zeid voiced concern that Jeremic would manipulate the debate to minimize the crimes of Serbs in the Balkans during the 1990s. "I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event," Zeid told Turtle Bay last week. " We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."

Zeid said that Jeremic had denied a request by the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian human rights group that represents victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, to address the U.N. General Assembly, though he did invite them to attend. Instead, the group will hold a press conference at U.N. headquarters sponsored by the governments of Jordan and Liechtenstein.

Tomorrow’s session will include two parts, public debate by governments in the U.N. General Assembly, and a pair of afternoon panel discussions. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to deliver a speech at the opening of the General Assembly Session. The European Union is also scheduled to deliver a speech. But many governments, including Britain, are expected to send relatively junior officials to the event.

In recent weeks, several prominent attendees — including the president of the International Criminal Court, Song Sang-Hyun — who had previously planned to attend the conference have pulled out of the event. Others include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general’s lawyer, Patricia O’Brien.

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