Accused of War Crimes, and Living With Perks

THE HAGUE — Since the days after World War II when people accused as Nazi criminals awaited their fates in the grimness of Nuremberg Prison, reformers have dramatically reshaped the standards under which suspects accused of the vilest war crimes are being held.

Courtesy of the ICTY

The communal area of the detention unit of the International Criminal Court.

Beyond the brick towers of a Dutch prison just east of here is a compound where former Congolese warlords, Serbian militia leaders and a former Liberian president accused of instigating murder, rape and enslavement are confined in two detention centers with private cells stocked like college dormitories, with wooden bookcases, television sets and personal computers. Among the other amenities are a gym, a trainer, a spiritual room and a common kitchen where some former enemies trade recipes and dine on cevapi, or Balkan meatballs.

Three warlords whose cases are before the International Criminal Court are also receiving free legal aid at a monthly cost of about €35,000, or $43,000. They are classified as indigent, one of them despite assets that include €500,000 in investments, €150,000 in savings, €300,000 in paintings and jewelry, three automobiles and four properties.

But an additional benefit — travel subsidies of tens of thousands of euros for family visits from distant African countries — is stirring an emotional debate among the court’s donor nations about whether the entitlements at the cluster of international courts meeting here have reached their limits.

Each court was intended, in part, to provide a model of humane, civilized detention that contrasts starkly with the horrific nature of the crimes the inmates are accused of. But how much is too much?

A group including France, Italy and smaller states is arguing that the nations financing the courts should not be covering benefits that they do not provide in their own prisons — and do not want to. What precedent might be set, they ask, if they contribute to these provisions here?

“We’re not treating them as equals to the rest of detainees in national prisons,” said Francisco José Aguilar Urbina, the Costa Rican ambassador to the Netherlands. “A guy who steals a chicken to feed his family will not be paid by the states for family visits.”

The visits make up a small part of the budget of the International Criminal Court, which authorized the travel subsidies and spends about €102 million yearly for court costs, staff and investigators along with housing and prosecuting four men. But the dispute is scratching at bigger concerns about costly legal processes that have dragged on, yielded no convictions and put a lot of focus on the benefits at the detention facilities, which some critics mock as the Hague Hilton.

“Behind this issue is a tug of war,” said William Schabas, director of the Irish Center for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland — one between the court’s judges, who have generally supported broad prisoner rights, and many of the countries that are paying the bills. “They are wondering what they are getting for their money. This is a court that has existed for seven years and hasn’t finished one trial.”

Diplomats from more than 100 nations are gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to take stock of the court, though the dispute over family travel is moving toward a resolution this autumn. The court was created almost eight years ago as a permanent tribunal to prosecute genocide and war crimes. Its 12-cell detention center houses five prisoners: four from Congo and Charles G. Taylor, the deposed president of Liberia, who has two cells, one where he lives and one where he keeps his documents.

They share the gym with 36 defendants, including the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who are before a sister court dealing exclusively with Balkan war crimes and who are housed separately. That court does not provide travel benefits, but many of the prisoners’ home nations do, albeit far more modestly than the International Criminal Court.

Defending the International Criminal Court’s policy, Marc Dubuisson, its director of court services, said: “I’m not here to judge whether a person is worse than another. We have an obligation to show the world what is good management. Why would you want to sentence the children not to see their own parent?”

Thanks to conjugal visits, several detainees became new fathers, including a Serbian general and Mr. Taylor, 62, whose baby girl was born in February.

The first to tap family travel funds, back in 2006, were the wife and five children of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, 49, a former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, who is accused of enslaving child soldiers who were forced to rape, kill and plunder. The court paid more than $16,000 in expenses covering air fare from Kinshasa, two hotel rooms for 15 nights, temporary medical insurance, passport and visa fees and a daily “dignity allowance” of $24 for adults and $12 for children. Court officials also provided winter clothes and a babysitter for the children during conjugal visits.

Courtesy of the ICTY

One of the amenities available to the inmates is a gym.

Ed Oudenaarden/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots accused of using youths as killers, in court in 2006.

Two years later, Mr. Lubanga’s old enemy, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 39, sought money for visits three times a year for his wife and six children. Mr. Ngudjolo is accused of organizing a massacre in the village of Bogoro in which boy soldiers hacked and burned alive about 200 people.

When the court registrar sought to curb spending by rotating visits among relatives, Mr. Ngudjolo successfully appealed, demanding “respect for the entitlement of his children to visit their father.” His travel budget this year: €26,180.

On the day he retired in March, the court’s president, Philippe Kirsch, a former Canadian diplomat, affirmed the right to the travel payments for Mr. Ngudjolo, saying that administrators had reviewed his finances and that at best “his assets are only just sufficient to enable him to meet his obligations to his dependents.”

One of the court’s top donors, Italy, disputed Mr. Kirsch’s ruling as having no legal basis. The French Foreign Ministry supported Italy, saying, “There is no reason to fund family visits for indigent detainees with the court’s budget since it could go too far, especially since the court’s concept of poverty is fuzzy.”

Stephen Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crime issues, advocates alternatives such as videoconference calls, which are under consideration. The United States is the top donor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where Mr. Taylor is being tried.

“These are sensitive issues,” Mr. Rapp said. “We have to make sure that they are humanely treated at an international standard, but whether we should go to this whole level of flying families thousands of kilometers is much more doubtful. I prefer another practical approach.”

The court’s supporters argue that the decision has been taken out of context. “Our message was let’s not make a big deal about this,” said Cecilia Nilsson, who heads the legal section for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a network of 2,500 groups. “It’s not a lot of money. It’s part of keeping the detainees happy or, I don’t know the word — managing — the detainees. The court is still very young and the decision was from just one case. It was blown out of proportion.”

The debate is reaching another threshold — over whether to pay for visits not only for the accused but those convicted of war crimes. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is considering that for convicts serving lengthy sentences in Rwanda.

“Yes, they have committed atrocities, but is the goal to reintegrate them back into society or is the goal to cut them off from society?” asked Binta Mansaray, the court’s administrative registrar.

In the meantime, the International Criminal Court is economizing and exploring alternatives large and small: eliminating subsidies for family phone calls or excess baggage, for example, or placing visitors on empty returning military planes. A court report is expected on a proposal to finance family travel through a voluntary fund, although supporters and critics of the current system wonder who would volunteer.

How the detainees would react to any retrenchment is unclear, but some of them are not fully happy with their treatment now.

Mr. Taylor, for one, has complained about “Eurocentric meals” and boycotted his trial for a day after having to sit handcuffed in a vehicle outside the court for several minutes, which he considered “disrespectful.”


spotted by RS

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