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Human Rights Watch letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell

Colin Powell  
Secretary of State  
Department of State  
2201 C Street  
Washington, D.C. 20520  

Dear Secretary Powell:
I am writing in advance of the approaching March 31 deadline for terminating United States government economic assistance to Yugoslavia under the provisions of Section 594 of the 2001 Foreign Operations Assistance Act ("Section 594"). The importance of this law is underscored by the unfolding developments in Belgrade and throughout the region. Human Rights Watch calls on the Bush administration to adhere strictly to the conditions of the legislation and to communicate this position unequivocally to the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

Among the specific requirements for ongoing assistance is cooperation by Yugoslavia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Cooperation is defined as including "access for investigators, the provision of documents, and the surrender and transfer of indictees or assistance on their apprehension." [emphasis added] The law is clear and unequivocal and leaves no room for creative interpretation: to enjoy continued U.S. assistance, FRY authorities must apprehend and transfer indictees to the ICTY. With broad bipartisan support, Congress enacted this measure to ensure full cooperation as opposed to occasional incremental gestures.  
In addition to former President Slobodan Milosevic, the former Chief of the Yugoslav Army's General Staff, Colonel General Dragoljub Ojdanic, the former Serbian Minister of the Interior, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, current Serb President Milan Milutinovic, and former FRY Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic were indicted for crimes against humanity committed by Yugoslav and Serbian troops under their command in Kosovo in early 1999. During that period Yugoslav and Serbian forces conducted a brutal "ethnic cleansing" campaign in which thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed and more than 800,000 were forced out of the province. On many occasions, groups of Albanians were systematically executed by Serbian special police or paramilitaries. Human rights investigators, including Human Rights Watch, documented scores of cases of rape and sexual violence committed against ethnic Albanian women by Serb police, paramilitaries, and, in some cases, Yugoslav soldiers.  
In addition to those indicted for crimes against humanity in Kosovo, three officers from the Yugoslav Army-Mile Mrksic, Mirolsav Radic, and Veselin Sljivancanin, who have been indicted on charges related to the capture of Vukovar in November 1991-remain at liberty in Yugoslavia. Sljivancanin is still serving as an officer in Yugoslavia's army. Moreover, former Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic (a Yugoslav citizen) is living in Belgrade. Radovan Karadzic, formerly the President of the Bosnian Serb Republic, is also at large and believed to have traveled to FRY in recent months. The longstanding impunity enjoyed by all these indicted criminals serves to embolden those in Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Croatia who harbor an extreme nationalist vision and pursue incendiary policies to serve it. The failure to hold them to account undermines the efforts of moderate leaders to promote reconciliation and integration with Europe, as well as political and economic reform.  
To date, President Kostunica has made no effort to assist in apprehending or transferring the indictees at large in FRY to the custody of the ICTY. In fact, to justify his lack of cooperation he has repeatedly criticized the fairness of the ICTY. As recently as January 23, at a meeting with the ICTY's Chief Prosecutor, the President denigrated the Tribunal for dispensing "selective justice" and "laying collective guilt on one people" by supposedly singling out Serbian defendants. President Kostunica's public statements fly in the face of the views of those senior officials in the FRY and Serbian governments who are recommending the apprehension and transfer of all indictees.  
In his efforts to oppose cooperation with the Tribunal, President Kostunica has argued that arresting Milosevic and the other indictees will "destabilize" Yugoslavia and its new government. In fact, experience in the region demonstrates that the way to solidify the transition to a form of government that respects human rights is to apply the rule of law there. As the recent attempted kidnapping of the new Serbian Minister of Interior and the shots fired at the driver of the new head of Serbian State Security suggest, allowing Milosevic, the former Serbian Minister of the Interior, and the others to remain at liberty is encouraging the most violent and lawless elements in Serbia and weakening prospects for a lasting transition in FRY.  
While President Kostunica's government has taken a restrained approach to the escalating violence and attacks on Serbs in the Presevo Valley, we are convinced that anything other than the strictest enforcement of U.S. conditions of cooperation with the ICTY as part of an implied quid pro quo will encourage an increase in violence there. Experience in the former Yugoslavia confirms that limiting escalating ethnic violence requires the fair, impartial and prompt application of the rule of law to all parties. The failure of the government in Belgrade to bring Slobodan Milosevic and the other indictees to justice before the ICTY can only serve to undermine confidence in the process of international justice and embolden the most violent actors in Kosovo and the Presevo Valley.  
Any accommodation of the FRY government's failure to cooperate with the ICTY threatens not only the Yugoslav transition, but also those underway in Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina. The perception of a double standard for justice will strengthen the extremist elements throughout the region. Until it is made very clear that the U.S. and its allies will insist on the same standards of international justice throughout the region, hard core resistance to all aspects of the peace process will continue.  
In that light, the effort by Serbian authorities to arrest Milosevic on domestic corruption charges can neither satisfy U.S. law nor the interests of peace and stability in the region. Domestic corruption proceedings in Belgrade, whatever their merits, cannot supersede Yugoslavia's obligation, under U.N. Security Council resolutions, as well as the Dayton Accords, to cooperate fully with the ICTY. Section 594 specifically requires satisfaction of this obligation, without reference to any alternative process of accountability. Moreover, domestic charges against Milosevic do not address the apprehension of the other indictees.  
Crimes against humanity are a matter of concern to the victims as well as the international community as a whole. The scope and gravity of these acts give their prosecution precedence over corruption charges in Belgrade. The ICTY will try the indictees according to the highest standards of international justice that safeguard the rights of the accused. This will provide the victims a remedy under law. The ICTY was established because the courts of the former Yugoslavia lacked the independence and impartiality to try those accused of the most serious crimes. While we welcome the recent reforms in FRY's judicial system, impartial justice and U.S. law require full cooperation with the ICTY. We urge you to convey this message clearly to the authorities in Belgrade.  
Some in Belgrade have argued that there is no statutory authority to transfer the indictees of Yugoslav nationality to the ICTY's custody. Nevertheless, President Kostunica can and should clearly signal his support for their apprehension. The arrest warrant issued by the ICTY for the indictees allows for their immediate arrest. The accused can be held by the national authorities until the necessary legislative changes have been made for their transfer to the custody of the Tribunal. The completion of the necessary legislative revisions must be treated as a priority matter. Moreover, any legal issues complicating the transfer of FRY citizens would not bar the immediate apprehension and transfer of those indictees who are non-citizens but nonetheless continue to enjoy impunity in FRY territory.  
In light of the foregoing, we urge you to insist upon full and complete satisfaction of the conditions for U.S. assistance set forth in Section 594. We believe that as the law suggests, the U.S. should insist on these same conditions for its support of FRY at the international financial institutions. Equivocation here will severely damage the U.S. Government's credibility to speak forcefully on behalf of justice and undercut respect for the rule of law everywhere in the world, but particularly in the Balkans, where the U.S. has already invested so much.  
Holly Cartner  
Executive Director  
Europe and Central Asia Division  
Human Rights Watch

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