(New York) - Yugoslavia's commitments to cooperate with The Hague war crimes tribunal are not fulfilled by a new law on cooperation, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch said that the law, which was adopted in Belgrade yesterday, means little without the actual transfer of indictees and of documents sought by the tribunal. The law contains ambiguities and loopholes that could be manipulated to obstruct cooperation further, Human Rights Watch said.
"No one should be duped by this law," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "The true test for Yugoslavia is the transfer of war crime indictees." Andersen noted that the Yugoslav government says some transfers of indictees will take place by the end of this month.
The Yugoslav law was adopted following strong signals from the United States and Europe that closer relations would require Belgrade to cooperate with The Hague tribunal. Human Rights Watch urged the international community to maintain pressure until there is concrete evidence of cooperation with the tribunal.
The European Union last week issued a report on its Stabilization and Association Process with Yugoslavia, in which the European Commission observed:
"Cooperation with the [ICTY], FRY's international obligation, both as a UN Member State and as a signatory of the Dayton / Paris Agreements, remains insufficient . . . . At federal level, the necessary access to evidence (witnesses, documents, archives - particularly military) is denied on the pretext that no domestic legislation authorises it. Even if a law is necessary on procedural aspects of the cooperation UNSCR 1207 specifically states that no state may invoke provisions of domestic law, or the lack of any procedural law, as a justification for its failure to cooperate. Little progress has been made, despite announcements by the authorities, and the delays continue to damage the functioning and reputation of the federal state."
The Council of Europe has also indicated that cooperation with the ICTY is a pre-requisite for Yugoslav membership in the pan-European organization. Yugoslavia hopes to join the Council this year and a delegation of the Council's Parliamentary Assembly is in Belgrade this week to assess Belgrade's progress.
U.S. law required a cut-off in aid to Yugoslavia unless U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Belgrade was cooperating with the ICTY. The Secretary has not yet issued that certification, effectively freezing continued U.S. assistance.
"A law on cooperation was never actually necessary," Andersen said. "It may create as many problems as it solves. There should be no U.S. certification, no enhancement of the E.U. Stabilization process, and no movement toward Council of Europe membership until Belgrade's true intentions are clear."
Human Rights Watch identified four main areas of concern in the new law:
- Yugoslav officials have stated that the law applies only to the individuals against whom indictments have already been issued. Human Rights Watch said that such a limitation clearly contravenes Yugoslavia's obligations under the Statute of the Hague tribunal, which requires all U.N. member states to honor the ICTY's indictments, no matter when they are issued.
- The law states that "a request for cooperation or the realization of certain decisions by the International Criminal Tribunal shall be accepted if it is based on the provisions of the Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and on the evidence of the International Criminal Tribunal." Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Yugoslav courts might construe such provisions as empowering them to determine whether the Tribunal is acting within its own Statute and to assess the quality of the evidence, before authorizing a transfer.
- Another provision in the law erects potential barriers to the Tribunal prosecutor's work in Serbia and Montenegro. The law requires that these activities conform to the rights of Yugoslav citizens, international standards, Yugoslav law, Yugoslav sovereignty and national security interests. Human Rights Watch warned against domestic authorities invoking these vague standards to impede the prosecutor's work.
- The law states that the proceedings it regulates shall be expeditious. However, the law does not set out specific time limits for the investigating judge and police to act. This omission could seriously delay the transfer of indictees.