News 09 Jun 16

UN Court Accuses Serbia of Non-Cooperation

The UN war crimes court accused Serbia of violating cooperation agreements and undermining justice efforts by not arresting three Serbian Radical Party members accused of interfering with witnesses.

Marija Ristic

ICTY president Carmel Agius (left) at the UN Security Council. Photo: UN.

In an address to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carmel Agius, said Serbia should have extradited three Serbian Radical Party members charged with interfering with witnesses during the trial of their leader Vojislav Seselj.

“Interference with the administration of justice strikes at the heart of what, together, we have painstakingly endeavoured to build since the birth of the Tribunal, and undermines the Tribunal’s ability to carry out its work efficiently and fairly,” Agius told the Security Council on Wednesday.

The Higher Court in Belgrade decided on May 18 that the Radical Party members - Vjerica Radeta, Jovo Ostojic and Petar Jojic – could not be arrested and transferred to The Hague for trial because wahis is not in line with the Serbian law on cooperation with the UN-backed war crimes court.

According to the Belgrade court, Serbia can only arrest people wanted by the ICTY who are charged with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

However, in the past Serbia has transferred suspect to The Hague.

“Significantly also, and contrary to its own previous decisions, the High Court in Belgrade has now – to my enormous surprise - affirmed that Serbia has no duty to cooperate with the Tribunal on matters of contempt. This is very troubling and makes it imperative for me to express my serious concerns,” Agius told the Security Council.

“I consider this development to be a grave step backwards in matters of cooperation with the Tribunal and an unacceptable disregard of the primacy of Tribunal law over the domestic law of Serbia as intended by the Security Council,” he added.

Sasa Obradovic, the Serbian government envoy for the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said Belgrade couldn’t arrest the three Radicals as it was believed that such a move could endanger national security.

“The arrest warrant for the three people came after Seselj was temporarily released [for cancer treatment in November 2014]. It was the estimate of the government that their arrest could endanger stability in the country,” Obradovic told the Security Council.

According to Serbia’s Law on Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Belgrade is not obliged to comply with all the ICTY’s requests. The government can deny any request if it believes that it violates Serbia’s sovereignty or national security.

The three wanted Radical Party officials have told media on several occasions that they will never go to The Hague court voluntarily.

Seselj has also backed them, calling them “honourable citizens of Serbia”.

Seselj was acquitted of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia by the ICTY on March 31, but the prosecution has sought to appeal.

Serbia was further criticised at the Security Council on Wednesday by ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who said that the failure to arrest the three Radical Party members was not the only reason for concern.

“It is troubling that Serbia has not yet appointed a new Chief War Crimes Prosecutor, despite having at least a year to do so. It is difficult to understand why this crucial position remains vacant,” Brammertz said.

Serbian MPs failed to agree last year on the election of the new war crimes prosecutor and since then, the office has only had an acting head.

Serbia is yet to set a date for the election of the prosecutor, which may be expected at the end of the year at the earliest.

“The overall situation raises legitimate doubts that there is real commitment to the goal of impartial accountability for war crimes. The continued glorification of convicted war criminals in Serbia compounds those doubts,” Brammertz said, referring to the hero’s welcome that the Serbian government organised for war criminal Vladimir Lazarevic after his release from prison.

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