Free War Crime Convicts amid Pandemic, UN Court Urged

The Association of Defence Counsel Practising Before the International Courts and Tribunals urged the UN's Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Friday to free elderly war crime convicts to help ensure that they are not infected with the COVID-19 virus.

The association said that the president of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals has the power to grant early or provisional release to detainees serving sentences imposed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

"All detainees currently serving their sentences in Europe and in Benin are older detainees and therefore particularly vulnerable. If they contract COVID-19 while in detention, their lives are at risk," said the statement.

The lawyers' appeal cited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who has urged governments to "release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders".

It said that war crimes convicts who have served two-thirds of their sentences should be given early release, and those who have not should be given provisional release.

Convicts currently in detention include former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who was sentenced to life in prison last year for genocide and other wartime crimes.

Ongoing war crime proceedings in the Hague trial of former Serbian State Security Service officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic have already been suspended, while appeals hearings in the case against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic have been postponed due to his poor health.

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