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3rd Oct 2022

EU urged to press Croatia on war crimes prosecution

  • The 1991 – 1995 wars in the Balkans were the most destructive and murderous to take place in Europe since World War II (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU candidate country Croatia has not been doing enough to bring to justice all those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1991 – 1995 war that pitted the newly independent country against the Yugoslav People's Army, leading human rights NGO Amnesty International has said.

On Tuesday (15 April) the organisation called on the EU to play a more active role to ensure that this issue is tackled and that all war criminals are brought to justice, regardless of their ethnicity.

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Among other things, Amnesty is calling on the EU to press Croatia's government "to actively pursue the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, provide assistance for the necessary judicial reforms and continue to monitor the situation beyond the conclusion of accession talks."

During the four-year long war - known as the Croatian war of independence - ethnic-based war crimes were committed by both Serbs and Croats in the country.

But so far, Croatia's pace of investigating the war crimes has been slow, and its courts have mostly been dealing with cases committed by ethnic Serbs, while those committed against them by ethnic Croats remain unresolved, Amnesty said.

Moreover, witnesses in such cases, as well as journalists investigating and reporting on war crimes, have often been intimated and harassed.

"Croatia is a prime example of how the EU can use its leverage within the accession process to push for an end to impunity for war crimes," the organisation's Secretary General Irene Khan stated.

Ms Khan was in Brussels on Tuesday to meet top EU officials – including EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, High Representative Javier Solana, and European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering, in order to raise awareness of the problem and call for more action from the bloc.

A precedent for the EU

After the death of Croatia's nationalist president Franjo Tudjman in 1999, the country began its rapprochement with the EU. In autumn 2005 it started EU accession talks and is likely to become the bloc's 28th member by 2011.

Conditions for Croatia to join the EU include full cooperation with the International Crime Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), as well as a functional and fair judiciary system.

The country's recent history and the ICTY conditionality sets a precedent in the bloc's enlargement history and it is therefore very important how it will deal with these new issues, Nicola Duckworth, director for Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Programme, told EUobserver.

"Croatia presents the EU with a big challenge. War crimes present the EU with issues that it hasn't dealt with in the same way before with countries of accession," Ms Duckworth said.

Other western Balkan countries in line to join the EU – such as Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia – raise the same issues, she added.

"So we think it's absolutely crucial that the EU and Croatia get it right this time because that's also going to send a very strong signal to the other countries in the region that are seeking to have greater integration with the EU."

An Amnesty International delegation visited Croatia last week and met both Serb and non-Serb victims and relatives of victims of the war crimes that took place in the country, as well as Croatian top officials who have pledged to tackle the issue.

"If people feel that they are not seeing justice, whether it's from The Hague tribunal or whether it's from the national domestic courts, they get disenchanted and feel resentment which may hinder further positive developments. Ultimately, the people who have suffered on both sides, they want two things: they want the truth and they want justice," Ms Duckworth concluded.

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