Human Rights Watch is writing to urge you to maintain your principled approach towards Serbia as regards its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). The European Union (EU) should use the meetings with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica scheduled for September 12 to reiterate that full cooperation with the ICTY, including the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic, remains a non-negotiable precondition for the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Serbia.

Human Rights Watch is writing to urge you to maintain your principled approach towards Serbia as regards its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). The European Union (EU) should use the meetings with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica scheduled for September 12 to reiterate that full cooperation with the ICTY, including the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic, remains a non-negotiable precondition for the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Serbia.

Human Rights Watch applauds recent remarks by President Barroso and Commissioner Rehn that make clear that full cooperation with the ICTY includes the arrest of Ratko Mladic and his transfer to face trial and that without such full cooperation, no SAA will be signed. Similarly, we also commend Commissioner Rehn’s commitment to consult the tribunal’s prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, on Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY prior to making the Commission’s recommendation on the signing of the SAA to EU member states in coming weeks.

There have been several encouraging signs regarding Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY during 2007. War crimes suspects Zdravko Tolimir and Vlastimir Djordjevic were arrested in June of this year. Additionally, Serbian President Boris Tadic pledged, in July, to arrest the fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic by the end of 2007. Serbia’s commitment to arresting missing war crimes suspects was recently reiterated by Foreign Minister Jeremic during his visit to Brussels. While these developments are welcome, it is important to underscore that these arrests and pledges do not constitute full cooperation with the ICTY.

The prospect for closer ties with the European Union has been the most important factor in ensuring that persons suspected of terrible crimes in the former Yugoslavia are brought to justice. ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has stressed that “90% of all indictees brought to justice [before the ICTY] are a direct result of conditionality applied by the EU.” As you know, Serbia’s previous non-cooperation with the ICTY led to the suspension of SAA negotiations in May 2006. At that time Commissioner Rehn emphasized the importance of the arrest and transfer to the ICTY of Mladic for the resumption of negotiations.

Disturbingly, Ms. Del Ponte has noted that Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY has slowed in recent weeks. Given this, we believe that it is imperative that the EU use the meetings this week to remind Prime Minister Kostunica that the General Affairs Council conclusions of February 2007 require Serbia to take “concrete and effective actions for full cooperation with the ICTY,” and to reiterate that full cooperation includes the transfer of Ratko Mladic.

EU member states must support the Commission by maintaining a firm position in the Council, and by using their bilateral relations with Belgrade to press for full cooperation with the ICTY, including the arrest and surrender of Ratko Mladic, prior to the completion of SAA negotiations. Human Rights Watch calls on the EU presidency and EU member states to clearly signal in the coming weeks that they will not sign the SAA unless this is achieved. The EU conditionality policy will only work if it is credible. It will only be credible if the EU is firm and consistent in the implementation of this policy with the various countries of the Western Balkans.

Serbia’s full cooperation with the ICTY, as well as fair domestic trials for war crimes, will help ensure a democratic future based on respect for the rule of law in Serbia. A stable, democratic Serbia will be better able to normalize relations with its neighbors and eventually become a functioning member of the European Union. The failure to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and genocide will only strengthen those forces within Serbia hostile to justice and the other values that underpin the European Union.

Human Rights Watch urges you to make clear to Prime Minister Kostunica this week that the European Union continues to view full cooperation with the ICTY, including the arrest of Ratko Mladic, as a necessary precondition to signing an SAA.

Sincerely,

Lotte Leicht
EU Director

Richard Dicker
Director
International Justice Programme

Holly Cartner
Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

Cc: EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs, EU COPS Ambassadors