Letter to the Committee of Ministers regarding Serbia’s upcoming chairmanship
May 4, 2007

On May 10-11, 2007, Serbia is scheduled to assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The Council of Europe is Europe’s pre-eminent human rights organization with the stated “core objective” of “preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” For these words to have any real meaning, it is imperative that Serbia, as the chair of the institution’s highest political decision-making body, be in full compliance with its membership commitments and its legal obligations to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Most immediately Serbia must turn over the remaining ICTY fugitives who continue to reside in Serbia, including Bosnian wartime general Ratko Mladic.

Dear Ministers,

On May 10-11, 2007, Serbia is scheduled to assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The Council of Europe is Europe’s pre-eminent human rights organization with the stated “core objective” of “preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”1 For these words to have any real meaning, it is imperative that Serbia, as the chair of the institution’s highest political decision-making body, be in full compliance with its membership commitments and its legal obligations to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Most immediately Serbia must turn over the remaining ICTY fugitives who continue to reside in Serbia, including Bosnian wartime general Ratko Mladic.

On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Serbia breached its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by failing to prevent or punish the genocide at Srebrenica. This ruling marks the first time the ICJ has found a country in violation of the Genocide Convention. In particular, the Court found that Serbia’s failure to transfer Ratko Mladic to the ICTY amounts to an ongoing violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention. The Court ordered Serbia to transfer to the ICTY individuals indicted for genocide and to cooperate fully with the Tribunal.

The Council of Europe bodies charged with monitoring Serbia’s compliance with its accession commitments and obligations have all repeatedly noted Serbia’s failure to co-operate fully on the matter of the arrest and surrender of indictees to the ICTY. The Secretary-General’s most recent report emphasizes that “full co-operation with ICTY remains the most fundamental criteria to evaluate Serbia’s progress not only with respect to the accession requirements but also with respect to other major international organisations,” and deplores its lack of commitment in arresting Ratko Mladic.2 Despite Serbia’s presentation of an Action Plan to apprehend Mladic in July 2006, there has been no tangible progress or evidence of any real commitment to implement it.

The recent ICJ decision underscores the fact that almost 12 years after the Srebrenica massacre, its indicted architects Ratko Mladic, and Bosnian Serb wartime President, Radovan Karadzic, remain at large. In addition to Mladic, four other war crimes suspects indicted by the ICTY are believed to be in Serbia.

It is critically important for the Council of Europe, at the highest levels, to reaffirm that impunity for war crimes and genocide is incompatible with the values of the institution. Ignoring Serbia’s failure to comply with its obligations to turn over fugitives at this critical moment would risk undermining efforts to move Serbia towards a stable and democratic future based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. It would also signal an unconscionable abandonment of the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia, and bring into question the Council of Europe’s standing as the leading institutional champion of human rights in Europe.

Council of Europe member states have all “resolved to ensure full compliance with our membership commitments within the Council of Europe.”3 Serbia’s record is clearly falling short in this respect. Serbia’s position as chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers requires it to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights and rule of law by no longer harboring war criminals within its borders. The Council of Europe and its individual member states have a critical role to play by providing principled and consistent leadership on these matters.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,

Richard Dicker
Director
International Justice Program

Holly Cartner
Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

CC:

Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
René van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Charles Goerens and Andreas Gross, Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee Rapporteurs for Serbia

[1]. Council of Europe, “Warsaw Declaration,” May 17, 2005, http://www.coe.int/t/dcr/summit/
20050517_decl_varsovie_en.asp (accessed April 27, 2007), para. 1.

[2]. Report of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, December 18, 2006, paras. 42-43.

[3]. Warsaw Declaration, para. 5.