Director of the Serbian Office for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Dusan Ignjatovic, says Serbia will continue the cooperation with the ICTY’s successor in the same way.
|Dusan Ignjatovic, Director of the Serbian Office for Cooperation with the ICTY Photo:Beta|
The UN recently appointed the new prosecution and judges of the residual mechanism that will continue the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, after its closure in 2014.
“Serbia has an obligation to cooperate with the Tribunal and it is obligated to cooperate with the residual mechanism as well. It is important to continue the cooperation on the achieved level.”
The Serbian Office for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal was set up in 2007, as a response to numerous requests from the ICTY. So far Serbia has extradited 46 of its nationals, while its authorities have responded to more than 3,000 requests from the ICTY prosecution, defence teams or Trial Chambers.
“Although it is not easy to cooperate with an external criminal court and the cooperation with the Tribunal presents to be a very sensitive issue, in the last five years we have not encountered any big, insurmountable problems,” says Ignjatovic, adding that after the extradition of Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic “the hardest part of the job is finished.”
“The cooperation is still ongoing in relation to the delivery of documents, access to archives and witnesses, distribution of the summons and other things that need to be delivered to persons residing on our territory,” explains Ignjatovic.
Serge Brammerz, the Prosecutor of the ICTY, acknowledges how well Serbia has cooperated in his latest report to the UN Security Council in December last year. He praised the work of the authorities in Belgrade, adding that the arrests of the latest fugitives put his office and Serbia on a new, more positive, footing.
However, Brammerz further stated that he expected “to see results from Serbia’s investigation into how the ICTY fugitives, including Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, managed to evade justice for so many years” and that more needs to be done on this issue.
Ignjatovic believes that discovering who helped the fugitives is important.
“I understand Brammerz’s interest in finding out who the accomplices were and his interest in this matter is legitimate; however, I believe that this should be an issue for the Serbian institutions since it is within their competence. We should determine how the fugitives were able to hide and who helped them, since this is a very important issue,” said Ignjatovic.
Looking back, Ignjatovic told BIRN that the hardest task was actually locating the fugitives.
The ICTY representatives, including prosecutor Brammerz and some former officials of the Hague Tribunal, have often claimed that Serbia only gave its full cooperation to the ICTY after pressure was applied during the EU accession negotiations.
Asked if the conditions imposed during the EU accession negotiations were crucial, Ignjatovic responded that they were significant, but that the political will within Serbia also played an important part.
“It would be naive to believe that imposed conditions had no effect on [Serbian] cooperation with the ICTY, but it would be also naive to believe that the cooperation could only occur under pressure,” he adds.
“If there was no political will to cooperate with the Tribunal, we would never have reached the level of full cooperation, regardless how strong the pressure was,” Ignjatovic explains.
A recent survey of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe concerning the attitudes of Serbian citizens towards war crimes trials, both in front of national courts and the ICTY, showed that more than 70 per cent of people have negative attitude towards the ICTY, while 90 per cent of them have never read any of the ICTY’s verdicts.
“When people have a negative attitude and they do not know much about the matter, it means that they adopted that attitude from someone,” interprets Ignjatovic.
“If you are able to choose between a favourable and an unfavourable self image, it is natural to choose the first. But reality exists independently of one’s wishful thinking. Embellishing the reality with myths in which we show to be always righteous, while the others are those who are always wrong, in which we are the only victims and the others are exclusive villains, is not just inaccurate, but also dangerous, since in that case people easily become manipulated.”
When asked if his office was doing anything to improve the public’s perception of the Tribunal and war crimes proceedings overall, Ignjatovic says his small team is responsible for the technical aspects of cooperation with the ICTY, but they have the will to change things.
“We organise round tables, we travel across Serbia, speak to youth leaders, to citizens. It is important to talk about the events and reasons that led to the need to have war crime trials and we will continue with these activities,” he maintains.
During the past 20 years, from the start of the escalating conflict in the former Yugoslavia, more than 1,000 people have been accused of war crimes, and a number of proceedings are still ongoing both in the national courts and the ICTY with the aim of bringing reconciliation to the region.
Talking about reconciliation and facing the past, Ignjatovic says that dealing with the past is not just a duty to those who died in the wars.
“It is a duty to present and future generations. One needs to pay tribute to the victims and punish perpetrators in order to avoid such a thing happening again,” he concludes.
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