Leading war crimes judge Cassese dies of cancer

AMSTERDAM Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:24pm IST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Judge Antonio Cassese, the first president of the U.N.-backed Lebanon tribunal and the Yugoslavia war crimes court in The Hague, has died at home after a long fight with cancer.

Italian-born Cassese, 73, who stepped down as president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Oct. 9 after more than two years in the post, died at his home in Florence, Italy, overnight, the Hague-based court said on Saturday.

The tribunal was set up to investigate the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, the first international court with jurisdiction over crimes of terrorism.

In June the court issued arrest warrants against four Hezbollah members, but the Shi'ite Muslim group has refused to allow any of the suspects to be arrested.

Cassese said at the time that the warrants were a "decisive moment" for the Lebanese and for international justice, promising "unflinching determination" to establish the truth.

"He created and was the pre-eminent figure in modern international criminal law," current Lebanon tribunal president David Baragwanath said in a statement. "His vision, intellect, dynamism and courage changed attitudes, institutions and lives."

Cassese also served from 1993-97 as the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up to investigate ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

The ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the U.N. and the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals established after World War Two.

(Reporting By Aaron Gray-Block)

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