Protest in Bosnia during UN tribunal chief speech

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - Civil rights activists and war victims protested Wednesday as the president of the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia spoke of successes at a conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the court.

A group of young activists stood up and held a banner saying "R.I.P. Justice" and then walked out when Theodor Meron began his speech about how the tribunal's achievements surpassed all expectations.

Officials as senior as presidents were among the 161 indicted individuals who had to defend themselves from serious war crimes accusations. Meron said in this way, the tribunal has proven that "heinous crimes can be punished whoever the perpetrators may be."

This "opened a new era where accountability will be a rule and not an exception," he said.

But as he spoke, a group of mothers of some of the 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre sat with their backs turned to him.

Survivors have asked Meron to resign following a string of acquittals during his mandate at the court's helm. In the past year, appeals chambers led by Meron freed five senior officials who took part in the Yugoslav wars although tribunal judges previously sentenced them to decades in prison for their command responsibility.

The tribunal was set up in 1993 to prosecute people responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law during the wars that raged in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and can declare someone guilty only if his guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt.

"We don't want to be part of the circus that is allowing judge Meron to wash his hands from responsibility to explain the catastrophic decisions he had made in the past year," said Hana Obradovic, one of the young activists who walked out.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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