Maclean's article provides update on BC's Ryneveld
by Ian Mather
Rows of newly labelled files line Dirk Ryneveld’s cramped office in The Hague. They contain gut-wrenching accounts of people raped and murdered by Serbian soldiers in the Balkans in the 1990s. As a senior trial lawyer at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ryneveld, who is from British Columbia, will have to prove that the country’s former president, Slobodan Milosevic, was the mastermind behind atrocities committed in Kosovo.
Milosevic is the first head of state ever arraigned for war crimes. He is accused of being responsible for the murder of 900 Kosovo Albanians and the expulsion of 800,000 Kosovars from their homes in 1999. He also faces a separate trial on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide in Croatia in 1991 and in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. These include the expulsion of more than 250,000 Croatians, and the massacre of over 7,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.
It will fall to Ryneveld, who was appointed in 1999, to prove that even though Milosevic did not personally take part in the killings, he ordered the mass murder of thousands of civilians across the region. Ryneveld plans to call more than 90 witnesses, and enter more than 1,000 exhibits, before the trial ends in August. But legal analysts say Milosevic could extend the trial by calling up to 1,000 witnesses of his own. “In my previous experience as a prosecutor I handled many gruesome murder cases,” Ryneveld said. “But here it’s just the overwhelming fact of seeing whole families wiped out, whole villages annihilated, and 12-to 15-year-old girls kept as sex slaves by soldiers and then sold to others for the next round of degradation.”
Upon his arrival in The Hague, the Victoria lawyer quickly made his mark, successfully prosecuting a landmark case in international law in which three Bosnian Serb soldiers accused of the mass rape of Muslim women in Foca in southeastern Bosnia in 1992 were found guilty. It was the first case in which sexual enslavement had been found to be a war crime; on Oct. 1 the men were convicted and sentenced to between 12 and 28 years in prison.
Last March, he also began the prosecution of three men accused of atrocities at the notorious Keraterm concentration camp, run by Bosnian Serbs. The Milosevic case, however, is the most daunting he has ever faced. Legal experts say the outcome of the trial will hinge on whether Ryneveld can prove Milosevic had “command responsibility.” Many people with direct knowledge of Milosevic’s responsibility will also refuse to testify. As well, the tribunal has to counter Milosevic’s suggestion that it is a “political court.” The former dictator will also offer his own complicated defence in an attempt to turn the tables on the tribunal. “I expect Milosevic will demand that leaders of NATO countries, who are able to present the truth on Kosovo, come to testify,” said Belgrade-based lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic, who is advising Milosevic.
Milosevic may also be angling to force Western leaders to give damaging information about ethnic Albanian guerrillas, in the hope of strengthening his argument that Yugoslav military action in Kosovo was legitimate suppression of an insurgency. Milosevic’s strategy could be derailed by judges who have the final say on which witnesses may be called. But, if they decide someone should testify, the judges have the legal power to compel the witness to come to The Hague.
Whatever the outcome of Milosevic’s trial, Ryneveld, who says he “represents thousands of victims,” knows he will be making legal history. “The work that is being done here will be an invaluable legacy,” he said. “That’s my honest belief.” It’s what keeps him going as he sits in his cramped office in The Hague preparing his case, reading all those files filled with tragedy and pain.
Ian Mather This document is comprised of excerpts from an article by Ian Mather that was originally printed in Maclean's magazine on February 4, 2002. These excerpts are printed here with the permission of both Maclean's and Mr. Mather. Special thanks to Tom Fennell, of Maclean's, for his assistance with the preperation of this document.
This article was published in the April 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.