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29th Mar 2020

War crimes report damages Serbia's EU bid

  • Srebrenica memorial -UN-hatted Dutch soldiers in 1995 failed to stop the massacre, creating a sense of national responsibility on the Mladic case (Photo: Ayuto)

The international tribunal in The Hague is planning to tell the UN that Serbia's efforts to catch top war crimes fugitives "have not been sufficient", destroying its chance of getting EU candidate status this year.

The latest report by Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) - seen by EUobserver - paints a damning picture of Serbia's co-operation in the hunt for Goran Hadzic and Ratko Mladic.

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"Their capture is Serbia's most critical outstanding obligation. To date, Serbia's efforts to apprehend the fugitives have not been sufficient ... Without a notable improvement in the level of co-operation, the fugitives will not be arrested," it says.

"Serbia's failure to arrest these two men undermines its credibility and the strength of its stated commitment to fully co-operate with the ICTY. It also threatens to tarnish the successful completion of the ICTY's mandate and presents an obstacle to fulfilling the international community's commitment to international justice."

The text, covering the past six months of ICTY work, notes that Serbia's National Security Council is "focused on a limited number of leads and [has] failed to implement the agreement to widen the scope of the investigations."

It adds that the council has ignored "persistent" ICTY requests "to examine the role played by networks of people supporting the fugitives to evade justice." It also notes that "despite numerous requests, Serbia has taken no steps to assist in locating and apprehending Radovan Stankovic" - a prisoner who escaped from prison in Bosnia in 2007 and who is said to be hiding in Bosnia or Serbia.

The report, to be presented to the UN Security Council on 6 June, effectively destroys Serbia's chances of receiving EU candidate status in autumn.

The European Commission is in November planning to publish an opinion on Serbia's eligibility to join the Union. But even if the commission takes a soft approach, The Netherlands has promised to veto the EU candidacy decision unless Brammertz gives a green light.

"[The] next report by ICTY prosecutor, Mr. Brammertz, due 6 June, will be key to EU decision making on Serbia later this year. [The] EU has agreed that further steps on Serbia's path towards EU will only be taken if EU member states unanimously decide that full co-operation with the ICTY exists," the Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement to EUobserver on 18 May.

Ratko Mladic is wanted in connection with the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men in 1995. UN-hatted Dutch soldiers at the time failed to stop the killing, creating a sense of national responsibility to stay firm on Mladic down the line.

By contrast, the Brammertz paper gives Croatia the thumbs up.

"In general, Croatia continues to respond in a timely and adequate manner to ... requests for assistance and provides access to witnesses and evidence as required," it says. It notes that key documents concerning the prosecution of Croat general Ante Gotovina remain "unaccounted for", however.

Croatia expects to complete EU accession talks in June or July and to join the EU in mid-2013.

Aside from its failure to find escapee Stankovic, Brammertz also praises Bosnia.

"The authorities of [Bosnia], at both the state and entity levels, responded promptly and adequately to requests for documents and for access to government archives. The authorities also continued to assist by facilitating the appearance of witnesses before the ICTY," he says.

The report notes that ICTY prosecutors expect to complete their case against Radovan Karadzic - a top Bosnian Serb indictee - in late spring or early summer next year.

It says that Karadzic' cross-examination of witnesses is gobbling up most of its time and points out that the evidence collection comprises some 9 million pages, including the notebooks of Ratko Mladic in their entirety.

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