News 11 Apr 13

Serbia Slams Hague Tribunal at UN Debate

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic described the Hague war crimes court as a biased “inquisition” during a UN General Assembly debate that was boycotted by the US as inflammatory.

Marija Ristic

At the UN debate on Wednesday about the role of international war crimes courts, organised by the current Serbian president of the assembly, Vuk Jeremic, the Belgrade leadership took the opportunity to attack the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, which it believes is biased against Serbs.

Nikolic said that the ICTY was unfair because of its “systematic atmosphere of lynch-mobbing of everything that is Serbian”, which made reconciliation in the Balkans even harder.

“ICTY trials will never reach the real truth, that is why the reconciliation will not be real and honest,” he said.

Belgrade was angered by last year’s war crimes acquittal of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.

Nikolic also cited war crimes trial defendant Vojislav Seselj, the former leader of the Serbian Radical Party, of which Nikolic was once a member, as an example of unfair treatment.

“Vojislav Seselj has been in The Hague for 11 years, which is a precedent in legal history,” Nikolic said.

But Ranko Vilovic, Croatia’s representative at the UN, said the ICTY deserved support.

“Croatia, as a victim of aggression, has strongly supported the work of the ICTY... Maybe we didn’t always agree with some decisions made, but we always supported the work,” said Vilovic.

The US boycotted the debate, alongside Canada and Jordan, describing it as “unbalanced” and “inflammatory”.

Erin Pelton, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said international courts had been “critical to ending impunity and helping these countries chart a new, more positive future”.

“We regret in particular that the way today’s thematic debate and the related panel discussion are structured fail to provide the victims of these atrocities an appropriate voice,” she said.

The debate started with opening remarks from Jeremic, who said that “it is finally time to tell the truth about international tribunals”.

“I deeply believe that there should not be taboo topics among UN states,” Jeremic said.

But UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who spoke right after Jeremic, defended the idea of international war crimes courts.

“We cannot expect human rights to be respected if we don’t support the international justice system,” he said.

The Serb member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency however expressed concerns about the ICTY’s recent acquittals of the two Croatian generals, three Kosovo Liberation Army commanders and a former Yugoslav Army general.

“Dissatisfaction with [the court's] verdicts exists within all three nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and this has been increased following the recent three ICTY verdicts in particular,” said Nebojsa Radmanovic.

The debate was briefly interrupted when a representative of an organisation representing wartime victims from the Bosnian towns of Srebrenica and Zepa, Munira Subasic, was ejected for attempting to show a banner describing Bosnia’s Serb-run entity Republika Srpska as genocidal, according to media reports.

The controversial debate provoked the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, Zeljko Komsic, to cancel a planned visit to Belgrade, saying that the Serbian president had offended wartime victims.

Nikolic was also criticised in Belgrade by the Serbian Liberal Democratic Party, which argued that his speech was “insincere and harmful toward Serbian national interests”.

Belgrade’s Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, CEAS, called on other top Serbian officials to make a stand for reconciliation in the Balkans.

“The CEAS believes that the western Balkans would be a much more unstable and undemocratic place to live if those convicted at the Hague Tribunal and by domestic courts were still at large and even in the ranks of the security services in the countries of the region,” the think-tank said in a statement.

Despite the criticism however, Jeremic was convinced that the debate was a success.

“This is the biggest debate in history of the UN. Eighty-two countries had their representatives present, we had 42 speakers... We had very interesting opinions, many of them critical,” Jeremic said.

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