Background Briefing

Lack of Political and Public Support

The war crimes prosecutor and his staff have been subject to various forms of abuse and interference since the office opened. In its early days, the then-minister of justice attempted to exploit the chamber’s existence and influence the work of the prosecutor’s office by pressuring the prosecutor to charge suspects wanted by the ICTY in such a way as to avoid having to transfer suspects to The Hague.31 Members of the Serbian Radical Party, a hard-line nationalist party whose leader currently faces war crimes charges in The Hague, have spoken against the war crimes prosecutor  in parliament. The prosecutor has been the subject of physical and verbal attacks by members of the public and reportedly receives threatening calls on his cell phone. Deputy prosecutors have had their cars vandalized and have been subject to threats and threatening phone calls as well. Judges involved in war crimes cases have also been subject to threats and attacks. Hostility towards court staff has been expressed in the media.

Although the prosecutor’s office believes it has the full support of Serbia’s President Boris Tadic as well as support from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, that support is not always expressed publicly.32 Some believe that Kostunica is reluctant to express public support for the War Crimes Chamber for political reasons since his party has a nationalist profile.33 However, public support for the prosecutor from Kostunica would be extremely helpful at times, particularly when the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office is prosecuting members of the police. Political support is essential both for changing attitudes about the court and for the ultimate success of these prosecutions.34

31 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ivan Jovanovic, May 14, 2007.

32 Human Rights Watch interview with War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office staff, Belgrade, March 30, 2007.

33 Ibid.

34 The results of the December 2006 public opinion poll indicate that the public expects politicians to make public unpleasant truths on war crimes more than any other source, including journalists and witnesses. Strategic Marketing Research, “Public Opinion in Serbia,” p. 22.