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Yugoslavia: U.S. Aid Decision "Premature"

Today's decision by the Bush administration to certify conditions for continued economic assistance to Yugoslavia is "premature," Human Rights Watch said today.

Milosevic's April 1 arrest is a welcome step, Human Rights Watch said, but does not constitute "cooperation" with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as required by U.S. law.

Last October, the U.S. Congress set out clear conditions for continuing some $100 million in U.S. aid to Yugoslavia, with March 31 as the cut-off date. Approximately $50 million remains to be dispersed. The U.S. law requiring termination is tied chiefly to the Yugoslav authorities' cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"The decision to certify is premature," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "This is not the moment to let the pressure off Belgrade. Slobodan Milosevic would not be behind bars today if it were not for international pressure."

Cartner said that the Bush administration was correct in deciding to withhold support for a donors' conference of major international lenders to Belgrade until the Yugoslav government has exhibited real cooperation with the tribunal. But the administration should lay out specific benchmarks, including the transfer of Milosevic and other indictees to the tribunal, in order for the donors' conference to go ahead. She also urged the U.S. administration to link future support in international financial institutions to the transfer of indictees, including Milosevic, to The Hague.

Although Serbian police arrested and transferred one indictee, Bosnian Serb Milomir Stakic, to The Hague on March 22, 2001, at least eight other persons indicted by the war crimes court are currently believed to be living in Serbia. In addition to Milosevic, these include four former Serbian and Yugoslav officials who were indicted along with Milosevic for crimes against humanity in Kosovo in early 1999, as well as three Yugoslav Army officials indicted on charges relating to the capture of Vukovar in Croatia in November 1991. Yet, with the exception of Milosevic's arrest on corruption charges, the authorities in Belgrade have failed to arrest any of the eight, and not one has been surrendered to the tribunal.

Cartner noted that the authorities in Belgrade have finally taken some initial steps to improve relations with The Hague tribunal, but said they had not yet produced the serious cooperation required by the letter and spirit of the law.

There are clear splits over cooperation with the tribunal between some in the Serbian government and the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica. Although several Serbian government representatives have spoken out in favor of cooperation, Kostunica himself has repeatedly denigrated the tribunal and even publicly opposed the one transfer of Stakic to The Hague.

In his opposition to the tribunal, President Kostunica has not only openly questioned the legitimacy of The Hague tribunal, he has also argued that arresting 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. 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 called on the European Union to maintain pressure on Belgrade for full cooperation with the tribunal by linking future support in international financial institutions to concrete steps. The organization also urged European governments to postpone setting a date for the donors' conference until Belgrade fully cooperates with the war crimes court in The Hague.

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