We are writing in advance of the informal Gymnich meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Salzburg on March 10-11. We are pleased to note that relations with the Western Balkans will be high on the agenda of this meeting, with the stated objective to “reaffirm the E.U.’s goals and to agree on ways and means to reinforce the E.U.’s efforts in the region.” We wish to take the opportunity of this meeting to highlight a select number of pressing concerns which we believe the E.U. would be particularly well-placed to address as part of its engagement with these countries.

As the Commission noted in its communication of January 27, 2006, “the Stabilisation and Association process, as enhanced by the Thessaloniki agenda, has proved an effective policy framework for E.U. action in the Western Balkans.” There is no doubt that the prospect of closer relations with the E.U. has served as the single most important catalyst for positive change throughout the region. We welcome the unique momentum that this dynamic provides for advancing human rights, and are eager to ensure that it is used to its fullest potential.

We welcome the Commission’s emphasis on “implementation of what has been initiated,” and the importance of focusing “on concrete results” in this regard. The January communication flags several areas where further work is needed, including refugee returns, war crimes accountability, and protection of minorities. Human Rights Watch has devoted significant efforts to researching these issues and is thus well-positioned to comment on them.

Human Rights Watch shares the view that implementation and results are key. The enclosed memorandum is intended to inform such discussion. It provides an overview of our main concerns, structured along three broad themes—Kosovo, accountability for war crimes throughout the region, and concerns in Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro other than war crimes accountability—and offers concrete suggestions for the E.U. to address them.

We hope you will find this information useful in maximizing the opportunity provided by the upcoming discussions in Salzburg to advance specific reform steps as part of the E.U.’s engagement with the Western Balkans.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns and with best wishes for a productive meeting.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

Lotte Leicht
E.U. Director

Richard Dicker
Director
International Justice Program