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The Hague Tribunal Orders Silence over a Prosecution Document

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On Sunday, Dec. 18, the press office of the Tribunal in the Hague sent me a message. This surprised me because the court has dispersed for Christmas on Friday and will reconvene sometime in mid-January. The e-mail begins with a warning: “Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document.” Then came the message’s actual content:

The Tribunal’s Duty Judge O-Gon Kwon issued today an Order in the (Slobodan) Milosevic case which states the following: “The use, publication, dissemination, copying, distribution, summarizing or in any other way making use of or transmitting the contents of the “Prosecution’s Application for an Order filed on 9 December 2005″ is prohibited. Judge O-Gon Kwon also states that noncompliance with his Order may lead to proceedings for contempt of the Tribunal. This is pretty tough, because what the judge means is that anyone who may have received a copy of the Application is under obligation not to pass this document on to others and should take steps to avoid the risk of doing so by destroying the document or returning it to the Tribunal. It is the responsibility of the recipients “to avoid accidental publication or use of the material in any way.” A violation of this order could lead to contempt-of-court proceedings.

This is how far the narcissism of the prosecutor of a powerful court can go. I am amazed that none of the media pointed to this absurd pronouncement related to the Slobodan Milosevic case. The moment one reads this, questions begin to sprout. What is it that the prosecutor wrote, signed and sent to the Tribunal? How can an international judge expect that more than a week after the application was filed (one in which nobody seemed to be interested) suddenly decide to forbid everybody on Mother Earth from discussing it?

The next reaction is to ask what inflated the document’s secrecy value so high so quickly? What did prosecutor Carla del Ponte sign that the public could know about for nine days and then be ordered to forget and never to speak about? Why such a threat of heavy legal penalty by the Tribunal? All the people on dear Mother Earth are forbidden to speculate about the document written on Dec. 9. This (implied) stance of the Tribunal is so absurd that it mocks the institution.

When this sort of flagrant nonsense happens in the capital of world justice, when not a single voice is risen to question the validity of this order, one wonders what can happen elsewhere? Wiretapping appears benign when compared to the threat publicly issued by judge O-Gon Kwong of the UN ICTY. What is wrong with this woman, Carla del Ponte? Where are the big solicitors’ names, the Moskowitses, the Vladimirovs, the Spongs and the others who wield heavy artillery within Dutch legal circles? Where is the American Bar Association? Where is the cabal of Blogcritics writers?

In my modest opinion, this is what erodes the trust and support of law and order in the eyes of the general and often ignorant public. This sort of absurdity drives people away from government institutions. These sorts of gaffes need to be addressed before the damage settles in as yet another example of whimsicality of justices and legal institutions, before the quick-tempered or offended decide to express themselves via means other than blogging. This funny Tribunal allowed itself too many blunders for the Security Council to further tolerate the blatant politicking and legal incompetence of the prosecutor and the relaxed attitudes of many judges. They already cost the UN (read the US) more than $1 billion dollars.

If Barbara Bush was in the White House, she could have said enough is enough. Now, her son can do it. Cut this Tribunal and wiretapping, let the people speak unhindered, Mr. President!

Edited: [SCS]

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