The arrest of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is only a first step toward justice and stability in the Balkan region, Human Rights Watch said today.

Yugoslav authorities have said they intend to prosecute Mr. Milosevic on corruption charges. But the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, established in The Hague under the authority of the United Nations, has indicted him for the slaughter of thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in early 1999, a crime against humanity.

"Prosecuting Milosevic on corruption charges can never provide justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of wartime atrocities in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Milosevic should now be sent straight to The Hague to face trial for his worst crimes."

Last October Congress set out clear conditions for the U.S. government to continue some $100 million in economic aid to Yugoslavia. The law requires Yugoslavia to arrest and transfer those indicted by the war crimes tribunal to its custody. Other prominent indictees believed to be at large in Serbia include four senior Yugoslav and Serb officials indicted for crimes against humanity in Kosovo in early 1999, as well as three Yugoslav Army officials indicted for the slaughter of at least 200 Croats in Vukovar in 1991.

Cartner urged the Bush Administration to delay certification until Belgrade has made a public commitment to transfer without delay Milosevic and the other indictees to the custody of The Hague tribunal.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has continually opposed the tribunal. He has resisted cooperating with it by claiming that transferring indictees to The Hague would "destabilize" the transition to democracy in Yugoslavia.

"President Kostunica says he wants to restore the rule of law to Yugoslavia, and we heartily support that goal," said Cartner. "But cooperating with the tribunal is a key part of reintroducing a credible legal system. Refusing to transfer indictees to The Hague will only exacerbate the existing atmosphere of impunity for the most violent and lawless elements in Serbia."

Human Rights Watch's own research in Bosnia and Croatia has shown that the transfer of indictees to The Hague can facilitate democracy and stability. Twelve Bosnian Croats surrendered to the tribunal in 1997 as a result of the U.S. threat to veto International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans to the country. The 2001 Foreign Operations Assistance Act stipulates similar conditionality for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.