The United States led a boycott Wednesday of a controversial debate in the U.N. General Assembly about the role of international criminal justice in reconciliation.
Some diplomats criticized the debate, saying it was intended to disparage the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and, by association, all other international tribunals.
The meeting was the idea of the Vuk Jeremic, president of the U.N. General Assembly. He is a former foreign minister of Serbia, and some diplomats say has his eye on the presidency of his homeland.
In a statement, a U.S. spokesperson said American diplomats would not take part in the debate which Washington feels was set up to be “unbalanced” and “inflammatory.”
The heads of all the international tribunals skipped the event, as did Canada and Jordan.
Jordan’s U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, told reporters he had hoped Jeremic would have shown greater sensitivity in planning the meeting and consulted more with member states about it.
“When it became clear to us that there was a distinct agenda to this meeting – a ‘flavor’ to it – it seemed to me the president of the General Assembly was exploiting his position for a narrower aim, and that was unacceptable to us,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made only a brief appearance at the session, urging all nations to respect and support international courts. Ban said no one should undermine the courts “for reasons that have more to do with politics than justice.”
Jeremic did not directly criticize The Hague Tribunal in his opening remarks, but Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic did, for 40 minutes.
“We wonder what kind of impartialities [there are] when there is a systematic atmosphere of ‘lynch-mobbing’ of everything that is Serbian … The influential Western media have created an image of a presumed Serbian guilt,” he said.
Speakers also included the Bosnian Serb president of Bosnia and Herzegovina Nebojša Radmanović. At a side event, a controversial retired Canadian General, Lewis MacKenzie, was expected to speak. He has previously questioned whether a genocide took place at Srebrenica in 1995 when nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred after Serb forces captured the town.
Since it was established in 1993, The Hague Tribunal has indicted 161 people for crimes, 15 of whom have been acquitted. Several dozen suspects remain on trial.