News 08 Jun 17

Serbia Defies UN Tribunal Over Radicals’ Extradition

The UN war crimes tribunal has stepped up its demands for the extradition of three wanted members of the Serbian Radical Party, but Belgrade officials responded by saying that the case is closed.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Hague Tribunal President Agius speaking at the UN Security Council on May 7. Photo: ICTY.

After the president of the Hague war crimes tribunal this week asked the UN Security Council to take action to ensure that Belgrade finally arrests three wanted members of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, the Serbian Justice Ministry responded on Thursday by repeating that a Belgrade court has already made its decision not to extradite them.

The Justice Ministry explained that in October 2016, it received a “confidential” warrant for the arrest and detention of Radical Party members Vjerica Radeta, Petar Jojic and Jovo Ostojic, who are wanted for contempt of the Hague-based court.

“The [Justice] Ministry forwarded the received documents to the Higher Court in Belgrade - War Crimes Department. This court delivered an opinion in mid-October 2016 that in this specific case there are no grounds for taking action in the jurisdiction of the court bearing in mind the final and enforceable decision of the Higher Court in Belgrade - War Crimes Department in May 2016,” the ministry told BIRN in a written response.

The Belgrade Higher Court decided in May last year that Serbia should not send Radeta, Jojic and Ostojic to The Hague because the country only has a legal obligation to extradite those accused of the most serious war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, Serbian news agencies reported at the time.

The three Serbian Radical Party members are accused of contempt of court for interfering with witnesses during the trial of their leader, Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes charges last year, although the prosecution has since launched an appeal.

Vjerica Radeta is an MP in the Serbian parliament, as is her leader Seselj.

The three wanted members of the Radical Party were put on Interpol’s ‘red list’ earlier this year.

The president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carmel Agius, urged the UN Security Council on Wednesday to take action stop Serbia violating its obligations to the war crimes court.

Agius said that Belgrade has failed to comply with its duties under the Tribunal’s statute by refusing to execute arrest warrants for three members of the Serbian Radical Party who are wanted for contempt of court.

“The Security Council has the capacity to tackle this issue, and it is imperative that it takes decisive action,” he said.

In a speech the same day, Serbia’s deputy justice minister Cedomir Backovic responded by insisting that Serbia had “clearly and unequivocally demonstrated its commitment to fight against impunity for the most serious crimes and to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal”.

Backovic said that Serbia had extradited to The Hague 45 out of 46 people accused of wartime crimes, and that the 46th committed suicide before surrendering to the UN tribunal.

“No other country extradited such a number of its high-ranking officials as Serbia did, and it is clear proof that Serbia is committed to prosecuting war crimes,” he added.

Meanwhile, all three wanted Radicals have said they will not go to The Hague to face the charges voluntarily.

Seselj has also refused to return to The Hague since he was released for cancer treatment in 2014, and was not in court for the verdict in his trial.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is due to shut down at the end of 2017.

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