2nd Jul 2022

Turn-in of war crimes suspect not a condition for Zagreb EU bid

  • EU pressure on the Balkan countries is "extremely important" for the work of The Hague tribunal, says Carla del Ponte (Photo: European Commission)

Carla del Ponte has admitted she is not expecting the actual transfer of a top fugitive indictee to The Hague as a precondition for a positive report on Croatia, needed to trigger the country’s EU talks.

Speaking to the EUobserver on Wednesday (8 September), the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) said she was waiting for "one more extra step" on the part of the Croat authorities, suggesting she hoped for a breakthrough in the coming weeks.

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Asked if she would insist that Croatia deliver the fugitive general, Ante Gotovina, as a condition for her positive evaluation, she said "I’m speaking only about full co-operation (with the tribunal)."

"Of course, the result of full co-operation is that we have indication about the location of Gotovina, or the best solution [is] that Gotovina is transferred. But the transfer of Gotovina is not the condition that the EU put on Croatia, it is full co-operation with us."

She stressed again that full cooperation means at least having some signs about the location of the general - and that these signs are provided to The Hague.

"If you are really doing a proper investigation about a fugitive, you must be able to have an indication – first of their existence, second of their whereabouts".

General Gotovina is one of the top indictees on the Tribunal’s blacklist. He is accused of murdering Serb civilians during an operation to expel Serb forces from the Croatian region of Krajina in 1995.

The EU refused to begin entry talks with Croatia in March, after the tribunal said that Zagreb was not trying hard enough to deliver the general to The Hague.

Some member states have criticised the move and even questioned the objectivity and influence of the ICTY's prosecutor over the bloc's proceedings with Croatia.

But Mrs del Ponte brushes this off saying "of course, different states react differently to what I say but that is politics, and I'm trying to stay out of it".

EU's pressure made a difference

In any case, she argues that the EU's pressure on Zagreb has proved as an "extremely helpful instrument".

"The first decision in March not to start the negotiations as general Gotovina was still in large has had a direct effect on the Croat authorities as they really started improving," she said, pointing to an action plan adopted in April, with concrete targets and deadlines.

But she insists that "something is still missing", although she added that the arrest of an alleged ally of Gotovina, Croatian businessman Hrvoje Petrac, a few days ago in Greece could prove crucial for changing the course of events.

She expressed surprise that Zagreb has not already sent its investigators to interview him as a key link to the general, but added she believes they will do it and provide her with some feedback.

"That is what I’m asking from Croatia – to do immediately what must be done," she stressed. "I’m confident that maybe next week something will happen on this ground".

Importance for the region

Mrs del Ponte remarked she was aware of the tight EU's agenda, with Brussels planning to discuss Croatia and its position at the the beginning of October.

"[The UK] presidency will have my assessment before the end of September, and I would be really very happy if I had the possibility to assess positively," she said.

The chief prosecutor also pointed out how important the EU is for catching other fugitives from the region – namely Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, both Serbs.

"The EU is extremely important for the future of what we are doing in the Balkan region," stressed Mrs del Ponte, adding "If we lose the support of the EU... I don’t see any result that Gotovina, Mladic and Karadzic would be delivered or arrested".

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