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UN proposal to set up a war crimes tribunal to deal with the crimes committed in the Serbian Bosnian conflict may be flawed, according to an Australian commentator on war crimes

ELLEN FANNING: Well, the man who pushed for Nazi war trials in Australia, has reservations about similar trials for the former Yugoslavia. United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, wants to set up a special international tribunal in The Hague, to prosecute anyone responsible for 'serious violations of international human rights law'. Well, the UN Security Council has the final say on whether the Tribunal is established, a decision which may hinge on whether the Bosnian-Serb Parliament approves the international peace plan, tonight.

Mark Aarons, the author of Sanctuary: Nazi fugitives in Australia, welcomes such a tribunal but says it'll face enormous impediments to successful prosecutions, and he has reservations about the UN's motive for establishing what would be the first war crimes tribunal since the Second World War.

MARK AARONS: The first of them, I think, is an in principle problem and that is that it seems to me that the proposal is far too limited and restricted in that it's being established for one particular conflict and in one particular time frame, I think it was from early 1991 onwards, and it does appear to me that in a world in which the Turks and the Iraqis are carrying out genocide against the Kurds, in which the Khmer Rouge, the genocidists of Cambodia are making a strong comeback, that it's particularly selective and morally, if you like, blind, to only single out one conflict.

ELLEN FANNING: But in cases of civil war, isn't it .. can't you argue that it's a better idea to bring in an independent umpire?

MARK AARONS: Well, you can certainly argue that, and I think that that is what is required, but why only this conflict?

ELLEN FANNING: If we look at what Boutros Boutros-Ghali is actually proposing, what practical problems is this court going to encounter, being run as it is from The Hague?

MARK AARONS: Well, I think it's going to encounter all of the practical difficulties that war crimes trials ever since the Second World War have had: the collection of evidence. It's self-obvious that the only place that you can collect eye witness testimony and documentary and other forms of photographic evidence, for example, is usually at the place where the crimes are being committed or where the refugees from the crimes have fled. Now in Yugoslavia's case, if the UN or Owen-Vance proposals that have been broken, hold up, that means that the UN's court is going to have to go into different cantons covering Muslims, Croats and Serbs, and in some way disentangle from whichever faction happens to hold local power, the right to go and investigate.

ELLEN FANNING: And you'd argue that similar problems would exist in trying to extradite, for example, a Serb person from a Serb area, a Croat from a Croat-held area, et cetera?

MARK AARONS: Well, I'm a little unclear as to what international law is going to enable this UN war crimes tribunal to so extradite either the criminals or to insist that witnesses who might be able to provide evidence for either side, the defence or the prosecution, are going to be forced to travel to The Hague to give that evidence. Certainly, there is an international legal minefield there, and without some form of police powers of being able to go in and actually arrest the suspects, extradite them to the place where the trials are going to be held and to force the seizure of documents and eye witnesses; it's going to be a very, very complicated and difficult process and very, very frustrating, I imagine.

ELLEN FANNING: And it goes beyond the former Yugoslavia. If the Security Council agrees, would countries like Australia, Canada, the United States be asked to hand over their nationals who may be implicated in all this?

MARK AARONS: Well, I think it's a very interesting point, really. It's well known, for example, that Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslim immigrants from all of those countries and others, have gone back in the course of the various civil wars that have been raging in the former Yugoslavia and, reliably, have been perpetrating some of the war crimes that we're talking about punishing. Now, how are we going to extradite a Serb who's committed war crimes, for example, in a Serb-held area in the new Bosnia, in one of the Serb cantons? It's a bit of a minefield unless there is some international instrument that allows us to extradite them directly to the UN tribunal.

ELLEN FANNING: Mark Aarons.