(New York) The Council of Europe should seek stronger commitments on police abuse, war crimes accountability, and Roma rights in connection with admission of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FR Yugoslavia), Human Rights Watch said today.
This week the Belgrade authorities accepted a list of accession demands from the Council of Europe, but Human Rights Watch said the list omits important commitments in areas where Yugoslavia’s record remains poor.
Human Rights Watch detailed its concerns in a memorandum distributed to members of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet over the course of the next week, to discuss Yugoslavia’s application for admission, in advance of an expected vote on the application by the full Assembly at the end of September.
“The moment just before accession to the Council of Europe is critical for setting countries on a clear course on human rights,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. “The Council will miss an important opportunity to promote reform in Yugoslavia if it leaves these gaps in its accession demands.”
The current list of Yugoslav post-accession commitments includes continued cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but remains silent on the issue of domestic trials of war criminals not sought by the ICTY.
To date, only two war crimes trials have been held in FR Yugoslavia, although hundreds of perpetrators of war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo live in the country. The ICTY has indicated that it will focus its resources on trying the highest-ranking military and political figures, while the rest should be tried before national courts.
“There is a clear need for the Yugoslav authorities to commit to accountability for war crimes and to build the independent legal institutions capable of carrying out that goal in keeping with European fair trial standards,” said Andersen. “The Council of Europe should explicitly get behind that goal as well.”
Human Rights Watch said the list of Yugoslavia’s commitments to the Council of Europe is also incomplete when it comes to improving the performance of the police. While the list includes reference to important structural reforms of the police forces, it fails to call for
investigation and punishment of law enforcement officials who abuse their powers;
amendment to the criminal code to specifically define torture as a criminal offense, as requested by the United Nations Committee against Torture back in 1998; and
vetting procedure for all members of law enforcement structures to dismiss and, where appropriate, bring to justice those found to have committed human rights abuses and humanitarian law violations.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that the plight of the Roma did not make it into the list as such, despite widespread discrimination against Roma in various fields of public life and frequent reports of violence they suffer at the hands of law enforcement officials.
“These are some of the most serious human rights concerns in Yugoslavia today,” Andersen said. “They should be explicitly addressed in its Council of Europe accession documents, and should be at the top of the Council’s agenda for monitoring and technical support in Yugoslavia going forward.”