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Council of Europe: Hold Serbia to Account

As Chair, Belgrade Should Turn Over Fugitives

The Council of Europe should require Serbia to turn over Ratko Mladic to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as it takes on the chair of the council’s Committee of Ministers, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to that committee released today.

“Serbia is the only country ever judged to have violated the Genocide Convention, and it’s persisting in that violation by not turning over Ratko Mladic,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “The Council of Europe, the ‘human rights conscience of the European Union,’ should insist that Serbia cooperates fully with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.”

On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice ruled that Serbia breached its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by failing to prevent the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica, during which more than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed, or punish those responsible. It further found that Serbia’s continuing failure to transfer Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) amounts to an ongoing violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Mladic, the wartime commander of Bosnian Serb forces, and the then Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, were indicted for genocide by the ICTY. Mladic is believed to be hiding out in Serbia.

The primary aim of the Council of Europe, which has 46 member states, is to protect human rights and the rule of law. Its work is rooted in the European Convention on Human Rights. The chair of the council’s Committee of Ministers is held for a six-month term on a rotating basis in alphabetical order. Human Rights Watch believes governments holding the chair of the Council of Europe’s highest decision-making body should respect its aims, including by addressing any unfulfilled membership requirements.

Prior to being admitted to the Council of Europe in 2003, Serbia agreed to fulfill certain obligations, including full cooperation with the ICTY and to do “its utmost to track down all 16 indicted persons who are still at large and hand them over to the ICTY.” While Serbia assisted with the surrender of a series of less prominent suspects to the tribunal in 2004 and early 2005, its cooperation has since stalled. Recent Council of Europe monitoring reports deplore Serbia’s lack of commitment to arresting Mladic.

“For the Council of Europe to retain credibility as a human rights champion, it can’t abandon the victims of genocide in Bosnia,” said Dicker. “To demonstrate that impunity for war crimes is unacceptable, European leaders should require Serbia to immediately arrest and turn over the remaining fugitives.”

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