News 04 Aug 17

Serbia’s Fears about Kosovo Joining Interpol ‘Unfounded’

Belgrade admits that Kosovo could soon become a member of Interpol, but its fear that this might lead to the arrest of members of Serbian security forces are misplaced, experts said.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Interpol headquarters. Photo: Interpol.

Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol has caused fears in Serbia that international warrants could be issued for members of its security forces who participated in the 1999 Kosovo war, but watchdog NGOs say that the prosecution of suspected war criminals depends on political will in Serbia itself.

“Even if Kosovo joins Interpol, that doesn’t mean that Serbia has to extradite people wanted by Kosovo. Each member state decides what to do about the warrants issued by the [Interpol] General Secretariat,” said Sasa Djordjevic from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy.

Djordjevic said that there is no sanction for not extraditing people who are on Interpol ‘red notices’, and that extradition mostly depends on mutual trust.

He added that Kosovo’s Interpol membership bid was being “politicised” in Serbia, with few expert arguments against its membership.

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said on Wednesday that the country was canvassing for support to secure membership at Interpol’s General Assembly session in September.

“There are many countries that have not recognised Kosovo but have expressed the will to support its membership,” Hoxhaj said.

Kosovo has applied for Interpol membership twice before but was rejected, most recently in November 2016.

However, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that this time Kosovo’s bid might succeed.

“Besides Kosovo, Palestine and the Solomon Islands have also applied. How can you say ‘vote for Palestine, but not for Kosovo’,” Dacic told daily newspaper Danas last Thursday.

The state secretary at the Serbian Interior Ministry, Biljana Popovic Ivkovic, expressed concern on Wednesday that former “Kosovo Liberation Army terrorists” could produce fake witnesses against Serbian policemen in order to have international arrest warrants issued.

The Pristina authorities are seeking the arrest of 57 Serbian citizens for allegedly committing war crimes during the late 1990s conflict, although the warrants cannot be executed outside Kosovo’s borders.

Serbia meanwhile has active warrants for the arrests of former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas on war crimes charges, which Pristina considers to be politically motivated.

The arrest in France in January of former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on one of these Serbian warrants sparked anger in Kosovo, although he was eventually not extradited to Belgrade.

Nemanja Stjepanovic from the Serbian Humanitarian Law Centre told BIRN that Serbia and Kosovo need to resolve the issue of prosecuting suspected war criminals during their EU-sponsored negotiations in Brussels.

“Serbia needs to recognise the [Kosovo] institutions and their requests, including those who go through Interpol,” Stjepanovic said.

In 2015, Interpol issued ’red notices’ calling for the arrest of former Serbian general and sitting MP Momir Stojanovic, as well as 16 other people who were members of Belgrade’s forces during the war in Kosovo, over allegations that they committed war crimes against civilians.

The red notices, considered the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, were issued on the basis of a request from the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

However, Serbia has completely ignored these red notices, Stjepanovic said.

He said that any potential prosecutions depend on with Serbia’s attitude rather than whether Kosovo will become a member of Interpol.

“I’m afraid that whatever happens, Serbia will continue to shelter those suspected of committing war crimes in Kosovo,” Stjepanovic said.

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