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Belgrade Fails War Crimes Test

June 29 Donor Conference Should be Postponed

The United States and the European Union should postpone the donors' conference for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, scheduled to take place in Brussels June 29, Human Rights Watch urged today.

Human Rights Watch said that holding a conference raising billions in economic assistance for Yugoslavia would be inappropriate given Yugoslavia's complete failure to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. While opposing economic aid, the rights group supports continued humanitarian assistance to Yugoslavia.  
 
In early April U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Yugoslavia was beginning to cooperate with the tribunal and therefore eligible for U.S. economic assistance. Powell announced, however, that U.S. participation in the donor conference would depend on further cooperation. Human Rights Watch has called on the European Union to adopt the same approach. Since April, the authorities in Belgrade have not arrested one person indicted by the tribunal, Human Rights Watch said. They also have made no public commitment to surrender former president Slobodan Milosevic.  
 
"Any claim that Yugoslavia has made progress on cooperation would be patently false," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "This is the moment for the international community to insist on full cooperation."  
 
The Bush administration is reported to have communicated to the Yugoslav authorities in late May the conditions necessary for U.S. participation in the donors' conference. These include passing a law authorizing cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, sending more of the indicted individuals to The Hague, and starting the process that will surrender Slobodan Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal. Not even one of these steps has been taken.  
 
Prior to his visit to the United States in May 2001, Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica repeatedly denigrated the Hague tribunal as a politicized and anti-Serb court. During his visit President Kostunica changed the tenor of his criticism in public appearances and claimed that Yugoslavia would adopt a cooperation law as a first step towards full cooperation with the tribunal.  
 
Human Rights Watch has never believed that the adoption of a cooperation law was necessary for Yugoslavia to arrest and surrender the individuals indicted by the tribunal. Recently Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and several Yugoslav officials have acknowledged that no law is necessary to transfer Milosevic and other indictees to the Hague.  
 
This week the federal cabinet submitted a law on cooperation to the federal parliament. In a detailed analysis of the draft law sent today to U.S. and E.U. officials, Human Rights Watch pointed to several loopholes that could seriously delay or obstruct meaningful cooperation.  
 
"Not only is this law unnecessary, the draft itself represents a step backward, not forward," said Dicker.  
 
The draft law does not acknowledge Yugoslavia's overarching obligation to cooperate with the tribunal, Human Rights Watch said. The law also gives Yugoslav courts the authority to decide whether the tribunal is abiding by its own rules, said the rights group. The draft states that the tribunal cannot act in a way that would "jeopardize Yugoslavia's sovereignty or national security interests." It leaves unanswered who has the ultimate authority to resolve any disagreement between the tribunal and the government of Yugoslavia on these issues.  
 
The draft law is still under discussion in the Yugoslav parliament. In the latest version of the law, the governments of Serbia and Montenegro, the two constituent republics of Yugoslavia, have been given the authority to make the final decisions on surrendering indictees. Transferring this authority to the governments of the republics creates an opportunity for an accused to challenge the law's validity under the Yugoslav constitution, further delaying cooperation as a result.  
 
Given the composition of Yugoslavia's parliament, this weak text is likely to get weaker in the final version. The parties opposing the transfer of Yugoslav citizens to The Hague are in the majority in the federal parliament.  
 
"President Kostunica has been ducking all questions about cooperating with the tribunal by saying that Yugoslavia needs this law first," said Dicker. "But if the law is not a good one, Belgrade's record on cooperating with the tribunal is not going to get any better. The real test is whether Kostunica starts handing over indictees-including Milosevic-to The Hague."  
 
Slobodan Milosevic is currently detained in a Belgrade prison after his arrest on April 1 on corruption charges. Yugoslav and Serbian officials have repeatedly stated that Milosevic will be tried for domestic crimes. They have failed to clarify whether and when they intend to surrender him to the war crime tribunal in The Hague.  
 
The tribunal indicted Milosevic and four former Serbian and Yugoslav officials for crimes against humanity in Kosovo in early 1999, as well as three Yugoslav Army officials on charges relating to the capture of Vukovar in Croatia in November 1991.

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