News 29 Nov 12

Hague Ruling ‘Spat in Serbia’s Face’ Says Belgrade

Serbian leaders queued up to condemn Thursday’s acquittal of Ramush Haradinaj, saying it proved that the ICTY was a political court that insulted Serbian war victims.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Photo by Beta

President Tomislav Nikolic said the verdict of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, on Thursday in The Hague was "not based on justice and will strengthen separatism in the region."

“Judging by everything, the tribunal was founded outside of international law in order to put the Serbian people on trial. The aim is to achieve certain goals that are well know to the Serbian public,” Nikolic said.

Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic said Belgrade would now decide in the coming days whether to continue its previous cooperation with the tribunal.

“For the second time in 10 days the ICTY spat in the face of Serbian victims and showed that there is no international law and justice,” Selakovic said, referring to the recent acquittals of two Croatian generals.

Ivica Dacic, the Prime Minister, said Serbia needed to continue dialogue with Pristina, despite the ICTY verdict.

“It is in the interest of the country’s European integration. We can choose not to go to the next round of negotiations [with Kosovo], but then we will wait until 2014 to start negotiations [with the EU] on membership,” he said.

“Let’s see what is the greater interest for us,” Dacic said.

Haradinaj, former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and a former Prime Minister of Kosovo, and his two co-defendants, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were acquitted of war crimes charges on Thursday.

Serbia’s Chief Prosecutor for War Crimes, Vladimir Vukcevic, said the verdict was an injustice towards Serbia and was a result of the lack of professionalism of the ICTY and its bad witness-protection system.

“However, we need to stay calm and continue regional cooperation,” he added.

The head of Serbia’s National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic, said the verdict further undermined the credibility of the ICTY and would undermine regional relationships.

“The public in Serbia has a right to be angry. And it is logical that the ICTY is perceived as a political and not a judicial institution,” Ljajic said.

Nikolic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party urged the authorities to end full cooperation with the ICTY.

“After the acquittal of Croatian generals, this is a second humiliation of the Serbian victims,” a party statement said, referring to the recent acquittals of Ante Gotovina and Mladan Markac on November 16.

Serbia’s former Chief Negotiator with Kosovo, Borislav Stefanovic, said the acquittal would further radicalize opinion in Kosovo and endanger the current dialogue as Pristina would now take a harder line.

The head of the government’s office for Kosovo and Metohija, Aleksandar Vulin, agrees that now it will be harder for Serbia to maintain its stance in the dialogue, as the verdict bolstered Kosovo’s international position.

“From the one side Kosovo already got independence and now the Hague Tribunal says that everything they did to fight for independence, every murder, was justified,” Vulin said.

The Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade based NGO, says that the ICTY verdict failed to do justice to the victims of the Kosovo conflict.

“This case was especially troubling as the protection of witnesses had a lot of deficiencies, while ICTY investigators in the field who were collecting evidence also showed lack of professionalism,” a statement read.

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Background

Timeline: Cases for War Crimes in Pec Villages

Timeline of events in the case against 13 former Serb fighters charged with committing war crimes in the villages of Cuska, Zahac, Ljubenic and Pavlan in Kosovo in 1999.

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