Journalists Condemn “Bureaucratic Madness” That Stifles Free Reporting of Milosevic Trial

The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Netherlands to abandon “complicated, unworkable and expensive” visa rules, which prevent some media from reporting freely on the trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic and other high-profile defendants from the Balkan conflict of the 1990s are being tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague which is also the future home of the newly-created International Criminal Court.

“Journalists wanting to report these trials have to overcome a barrage of complicated, unworkable and expensive rules,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “It is bureaucratic madness. If foreign journalists cannot enter the country to report freely, what is the point of having an international criminal court in The Netherlands?”

The IFJ, in co-operation with the Dutch Journalists Association and the Association of Journalists at the International Criminal Court, is calling on the Dutch Minister of Justice, Piet Hein Donner, to intervene to ensure that journalists from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and other countries in the region have trouble-free access to the Tribunal.

“The number of journalists wanting access is tiny, yet the hurdles placed in their way are excessive, out of step with the rest of Europe, and constitute a challenge to the journalists’ right to report,” said White. “This is a fortress Europe policy turning its fire on international standards of democracy.”

The IFJ says there is targeted discrimination against journalists from Bosnia and Serbia. Journalists from these countries need a visa to get into The Netherlands and they have faced particular problems. Journalists from Croatia do not face such problems.

“Rules are applied inflexibly and there are absurd demands in terms of documents and proofs that have to be provided. We end up with a form of censorship over a criminal process that should be open to the whole world, and particularly to those people who have been the victims of injustice,” said White.

The IFJ says that despite official appeals to facilitate access of journalists from the region to the Tribunal, where Milosevic and others have been on trial for more than two years, the Dutch government has taken no steps to ease the situation.

“It is intolerable,” said White, “If the Dutch authorities do not dismantle these barriers the public in the former Yugoslavia will continue to be denied timely and accurate information. In turn this will undermine a crucial aim of the Tribunal’s mandate as set down by the United Nations – to restore peace and promote reconciliation in the region of former Yugoslavia.”