News 07 Jul 16

Croatia's Conditions for Serbian EU Talks Revealed

Croatia’s conditions in the text of the EU's common position on Serbia’s opening of Chapter 23 have been partly revealed - but are mainly 'symbolic' according to one veteran analyst.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Photo: Flickr

Croatia’s conditions on Serbia’s opening of Chapter 23 - included in the text of the EU’s common position - were partly revealed to the public on Wednesday.

Croatia had earlier blocked Serbia from opening Chapter 23 in its EU accession talks, on the judiciary and basic rights, while recently it lobbied for its conditions to be included in the joint EU document, which serves as a platform for negotiations with Belgrade.

Croatia wanted Serbia to pledge its full cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, ICTY, and to honour the rights of the victims of wars of the 1990s, assuring them “access to justice and the judiciary without discrimination”.

Serbia's full cooperation with the ICTY was also a condition set by Brussels from the beginning.

Croatia has also secured the condition that Serbia has to cooperate with neighbouring countries on the issue of wartime missing persons by promptly exchanging information with fellow institutions dealing with the issue.

According to Croatia’s Commission for Detained and Missing Persons, Croatia is still looking for 1,573 missing persons from the wars of the 1990s, 931 of whom went missing in 1991 and 1992, mostly after the fall of the eastern town of Vukovar to the Yugoslav army.

Croatia claims that Serbian institutions have documentation pointing to the likely locations of these graves, and it wants Serbia to continue excavations and searches for Croatian citizens buried in Serbia.

Croatia also disputes a Serbian law that gives the Serbian courts universal jurisdiction to try war crimes committed in the wars of the 1990s.

Drawing on the principle of regional jurisdiction – similar to one used by France in prosecuting the Rwandan genocide – Serbia claims the right to prosecute all war crimes committed in the former Yugoslav wars, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrators or of the victims.

Croatia further insists that Serbia “applies its domestic and international obligations” in respecting the rights of national minorities.

This concerns a 2004 agreement between Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro, then one state, obliging both sides to respect minority group rights equally.

According to Serbia’s 2011 census, there are 57,900 Croats in Serbia, who Croatia says should have guaranteed seats in Serbia's parliament, as the Serbian minority has in the Croatian parliament.

Political analyst Zarko Puhovski told BIRN that some of the Croatian complaints were unjustified or were only symbolic, “like the law on the universal jurisdiction, which some other EU states also have.

“Croatia should have insisted on this issue during the [upcoming] negotiating period and not raised it as a prerequisite condition,” he said, explaining that Croatia was seen as a country “that wishes to exercise its power".

Puhovski concluded that the conditions were “far from reality and had only symbolic value”.

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