News 18 Aug 17

Belgrade Wants Serbian War Criminals Jailed in Serbia

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic urged the UN to allow Serbian citizens convicted of war crimes to serve their sentences in their home country, although this request was not granted when he asked in 2013.

Filip Rudic
Ivica Dacic and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: Beta/Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to enable Serbian citizens who have been convicted by the Hague Tribunal to serve their sentences in Serbia, because of alleged “inhumane conditions” in countries where they are being placed.

“If it is allowed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, why wouldn’t it be to Serbia?” asked Dacic in a press statement.

But according to the rules of the UN court in The Hague, people convicted by the Tribunal are not allowed to serve their sentences anywhere in the former Yugoslavia.

Any change would require a UN Security Council decision.

Dacic made the same request in 2013, offering “firm guarantees that the convicts will not be given early release without the permission of the Tribunal”, but he was unsuccessful.

Serbia has also been criticised by the UN court for non-cooperation because it is refusing to extradite three members of Vojislav Seselj’s hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party to The Hague for trial on witness intimidation charges.

The president of the court, Carmel Agius, urged the UN Security Council earlier this year to take action stop Serbia violating its obligations to the war crimes court.

“The Republic of Serbia is in violation of its international obligations every day that these arrest warrants and orders for transfer are not executed,” Agius told the Security Council.

The three Radical Party members - Vjerica Radeta, Jovo Ostojic and Petar Jojic - are accused of interfering with witnesses in Seselj’s war crimes trial.

Interpol issued ‘red notices’ for the arrest of the three nationalists in March this year.

But Belgrade repeated that it will not extradite them to The Hague, citing a ruling last year by the Belgrade Higher Court, which said that the Serbian authorities can only arrest people wanted by the Hague Tribunal who are charged with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

The Tribunal ended the case against Ostojic after he died on June 30 this year, but the others are still wanted.

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 last year.

Meanwhile Serbia’s problematic relationship with its war crimes convicts and its alleged lack of will to prosecute such crimes has been criticised by human rights groups.

In 2015, three government ministers and the army chief of staff, general Ljubisa Dikovic, gave a hero’s welcome to a convicted war criminal, general Vladimir Lazarevic, when he returned after serving 14 years for crimes against Kosovo Albanians.

The ruling Progressive Party has also hosted another Hague convict, Veselin Sljivancanin, as a speaker at party rallies, where he voiced support for President Aleksandar Vucic.

Watchdogs also claim that Serbia is failing to prosecute war crimes and gives convicted war criminals “preferential treatment in prison”.

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