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Scandal Leads to Czech Leader’s Exit, Hague Judge Questions Court’s Judgment

Plus, an infant caught in Bosnia’s ID imbroglio dies and protesters in Bulgaria continue to call for change.

by Barbara Frye, Vladimir Matan, Erik N. Nelson, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 17 June 2013

1. Czech prime minister resigns as scandal claims top aide

 

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas is resigning due to a corruption scandal involving his closest aide. In a 16 June press conference following a meeting with his ruling Civic Democratic Party and partners in the coalition government, Petr Necas said he would surrender the country’s top post as well as the helm of the center-right party, The Independent writes.

 

The move comes after days of political turbulence stirred by the arrest of Jana Nagyova, Necas’ chief of staff, in the country’s biggest anti-corruption operation in the last 20 years. Nagyova has been charged with bribing lawmakers and ordering illegal intelligence activity, according to Reuters.

 

Petr Necas

Some 400 police officers raided government offices, banks, and private residences last week in an operation that resulted in the arrests of Nagyova and seven others. Tens of kilograms of gold and $6 million were seized.

 

Three other members of the Civic Democrats – a former minister and two former members of parliament – along with the former and current heads of the military intelligence service also face charges, according to the BBC.

 

In a televised statement, Necas said he is “personally convinced that I did not do anything dishonest and that my colleagues have not done anything dishonest either,” but he added, “I am aware of the consequences for me. I want to stress that I am aware of my political responsibility,” the Independent and the Czech News Agency report. He said his resignation has rendered moot a confidence vote on his government scheduled for 18 June.

 

Necas said his party would nominate a new prime minister to lead the ruling coalition, in consultation with President Milos Zeman, avoiding an early election.

 

For Necas the affair has a personal element, as one of the targets of the alleged spying was his wife, Radka Necasova, Reuters reports. Necas announced last week that the couple are divorcing, which, in conjunction with the arrests, led journalists to speculate about his relationship with Nagyova, who allegedly ordered the illegal spying, the BBC writes.

 

“I am fully aware of the problems of my personal life burdening the political scene and the [Civic Democrats] at present,” Necas said, according to the Czech News Agency.

 

2. Hague judge blasts recent acquittals, outside pressure

 

Frederik Harhoff
A judge who sits on the Hague war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says the court has delivered questionable acquittals of top military commanders recently, presumably under political pressure.

 

Judge Frederik Harhoff made that complaint in an email sent to 56 people whom The New York Times described as “lawyers, friends, and associates.” The email was published by a Danish newspaper.

 

Harhoff criticized the acquittals of three Croatian generals and ministers who were tried in connection with efforts to drive the Serb population from a region of Croatia in 1995, and the later not-guilty verdict in the case of Serbian general who supported Bosnian Serb forces.

 

The final straw for Harhoff seems to have been the acquittals in late May of top Serbian intelligence officers whom he said gave “assistance in the Bosnian [Serb] forces’ notorious crimes in Bosnia against the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians.”

 

The court found that the commanders had not known that their support or actions would be used to help others commit war crimes. In adopting that line, Harhoff wrote, the court seems to have abandoned a principal established earlier of holding military commanders responsible. He said commanders “MUST ensure that in their area of responsibility no crimes are committed, and if they are they must do what they can to prosecute the guilty parties.”

 

The bar for conviction, he said, has instead become to establish that commanders “had a direct intention to commit crimes.”

 

 

In this 2009 photo, judges are sworn in for the Hague tribunal. Photo courtesy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

 

Harhoff suggested that authorities in the United States and Israel pressured the court to more narrowly define military commanders’ responsibility. “Most of the cases will lead to commanding officers walking free from here on. So the American (and Israeli) military leaders can breathe a sigh of relief,” he wrote.

 

The Times reports that the email gives vent to more widespread frustrations among some officials at the war-crimes court that judges are being pressured to rule certain ways and to wrap up cases prematurely. Further, the newspaper writes, the recent acquittals have “provoked a storm of complaints from international lawyers, human rights groups, and other judges at the court, who claimed in private that the rulings had abruptly rewritten legal standards that had been applied in earlier cases.”

 

Unnamed sources told the newspaper that some judges at the tribunal are ready to support a challenger to the court’s current president, Theodor Meron, in an election this fall. Meron is a U.S. citizen and former Israeli diplomat, according to The Times.

 

3. Bosnian protesters mourn death of baby Berina

 

Thousands of mourners across Bosnia lit candles and held vigils over the weekend after the death of a baby who had difficulty leaving the country for medical treatment because of a parliamentary impasse over identification numbers for newborns, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Berina Hamidovic died on 13 June in Belgrade after receiving treatment for a hole between her esophagus and trachea, according to Balkan Insight and Reuters. Her parents blamed the death on a delay caused by the baby lacking an identification number, and therefore a passport, needed to cross the border into Serbia.

 

 

The numbers were not being issued at the time because of a squabble among Bosnian lawmakers. The similar plight of another baby who needed treatment in Germany ignited protests in which demonstrators blockaded parliament and temporarily shut down the government.

 

Parliament was deadlocked over the insistence of legislators from Bosnia’s Serb enclave that babies receive registration numbers according to which of the country’s territories they were born in. Bosniaks have rejected this, arguing that it would deepen ethnic rifts.

 

“We practically had to take the child across the border illegally, although she was legally allowed to travel for urgent health reasons," said Emir Hamidovic, father of 3-month-old patient Berina. Her mother, Edina Hamidovic, told Bosnia’s Federalna TV that Berina “got sepsis due to waiting so long, her immunity went down ... she was not able to recover nor to eat,” according to Balkan Insight.

 

It is uncertain if the time the family spent arguing with border authorities over the baby’s ability to travel cost Berina her life, but her case called attention to the ID problem and parliamentarians’ inability to solve it.

 

On 6 June, protesters in Sarajevo formed a chain around the parliament building, trapping more than 1,500 lawmakers, staff members, and visitors. The “baby-lution,” Radio Free Europe writes, has united Bosnia’s ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks in demanding that their elected representatives work together to govern their country more effectively.

 

4. Security appointment reversed in Bulgaria, but protests continue

 

Nationwide anti-government protests in Bulgaria are slated to continue today despite Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski’s backing off from appointing controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski to lead the State Agency for National Security (DANS), Novinite reports.

 

Peevski said Saturday that he would withdraw from the post, but protesters are now calling for the Socialist-led government to resign. According to Novinite, protesters “write on Facebook that they are protesting against Peevski's appointment, the oligarchs who are the true rulers of the country, and the humiliation of common people.”

 

Peevski served as deputy emergency minister in a Socialist-led coalition government from 2005 to 2007, when he was fired by then-Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev for “lack of morals” after being sued for allegedly blackmailing, Novinite reports.

 

Oresharski has refused to resign, citing the importance of a stable government in upcoming negotiations over EU funds, Reuters notes. He has called for a public debate on the nomination of a new DANS director and planned to meet with protest leaders and civil society groups this afternoon.

 

Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right, nationalist Attack party, antagonized police officers, journalists, and protesters on 16 June in the only known confrontation in the otherwise peaceful protests. Siderov effectively allowed the new government to form in late May by casting the vote that secured a quorum in the evenly divided parliament. Demonstrators had gathered in front of the offices of Attack and those of the two coalition parties, the Socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, an ethnic Turkish party

 

5. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament plagued by feuds, incompetence

 

Kyrgyzstan’s legislature has devolved into an arena for personal squabbles, inefficiency, and incompetence, and there are indications that the public is losing faith in the body, EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

The 120-member parliament gained additional powers in 2010 under a new constitution written after the ouster of a widely unpopular, autocratic, and nepotistic presidential administration.

 

But it has squandered those powers, according to EurasiaNet.org. Political observers complain that the legislature is riddled with parties led as fiefdoms. Candidates run on party lists and must get approval from the figure at the top. Serious disagreements often lead to the formation of splinter groups.

 

Further, candidates are not always chosen for their acumen. EurasiaNet.org cites a 2012 study by Citizens Against Corruption, a prominent civic group, that blamed lawmakers’ “poor knowledge of existing legislation” for the fact that “the current legislature spends twice as much in government funds than the last parliament to adopt new laws.” Critics say many legislators are businesspeople with “selective interests in lawmaking,” leading to chronic absenteeism, the website says.

 

Reformers are calling for the party-list system to be replaced by local elections, theoretically making lawmakers more responsive to their constituents.

 

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editorVladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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