News 11 Feb 16

Serbia Condemns Hague Pressure to Arrest Radicals

Justice Minister pledges to send a protest to the Hague-based war crimes court after the ICTY slammed Belgrade for not arresting three Radical Party members.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
The ICTY angered Serbia, justice minister Selakovic said. Photo: Beta

Serbia’s Minister of Justice, Nikola Selakovic, on Wednesday said the governemnt will send a protest note to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

The government said it resented the way its legal representative was treated at Wednesday's hearing concerning three Serbian Radical Party officials, accused of threatening witnesses at trial for war crimes of their party leader, Vojislav Seselj.

“The Tribunal acted arrogantly towards legal representative [Sasa Obradovic] and that is another huge shame for the Hague Tribunal. In that way, Serbia’s mouth was sealed,” Selakovic said.

He added that Serbia would continue cooperation with the Hague court, "but in accordance with its national interests".

The angry reaction came after the ICTY Trial Chamber accused Serbia of failing to cooperate with the court, and demanded that Belgrade send fortnightly updates on its efforts to arrest the three men.

“The chamber is seriously concerned about Serbia’s lack of cooperation with the tribunal. Therefore it instructs Serbia to submit a report every two weeks describing in details the actions the government of Serbia is taking to fulfil its obligations and arrest the accused,” presiding judge Alphons Orie said.

The first detailed report is due to be sent on February 24.

Responding to Judge Orie, Obradovic said Belgrade had not reached a decision on how to act.

The three Serbian Radical Party officials, Vjerica Radeta, Petar Jojic and Jovo Ostojic, are accused of threatening two protected witnesses at Seselj’s trial.

They are also accused of blackmailing the protected witnesses and offering them bribes of 500 euros in order not to testify at the trial for alleged wartime crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

Radeta has said on several occasions she will never go to the Hague court voluntarily. The party has reiterated the same statement.

The UN court previously ordered Belgrade “to submit monthly reports to the chamber outlining its efforts with regard to executing the arrest warrants, with the first report being due on 1 February 2016”.

Belgrade submitted its first report on February 2, stating it was awaiting a response from the Tribunal’s president in relation to a letter it sent on December 7, asking for the case to be referred to Serbia’s jurisdiction.

Seselj is still waiting for the exact date of his verdict, after several controversial delays. He returned to Belgrade in November 2014 after being granted temporary release by the Hague Tribunal on humanitarian grounds to undergo cancer treatment.

Although the UN court has asked for him to return to The Hague, the Serbian authorities have not arrested him, citing his poor health as a reason.

According to Serbia’s Law on Cooperation with the ITCY, Belgrade is not obliged to comply with all the Hague court’s requests.

The government can deny any request if it believes that it violates Serbia’s sovereignty or national security.

On the same occasion, Selakovic also commented on the recent death of Zdravko Tolimir, the former intelligence chief of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, convicted of the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica.

Selakovic showed a government document from last October, which asked the ICTY to release Tolimir on health grounds.

“Serbia’s voice was not heard and the man died. The government of Serbia insists that its voice is heard [at the ICTY],” Selakovic said.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday that “someone needs to answer the question about why men died in custody.”

“Gentlemen, sir Orie (ICTY judge Alphons Orie) and all the others in the Hague Tribunal, learn to respect Serbia, and only then we will continue to cooperate in line with Serbian laws,” Vucic told media.

Tolimir, a Serbian citizen, who was waiting to be sent to serve a life sentence after being found guilty last year of taking part in the Srebrenica genocide, died on Monday aged 67.

Serbian media reports on Thursday slated the Hague's decision, with frontpage headlines such as "The Hague's Crime," and "With a Protest Note to the Hague's Arrogance".

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