We are writing to you today in anticipation of the October 4, 2007 EU/Balkans Ministerial Troika to ask for your support in encouraging EU Members States to find a collective solution to the lack of adequate witness protection in Kosovo. We also appeal to you to ensure a consistent and principled EU position towards Western Balkans countries with respect to their cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and domestic war crimes prosecutions in the context of the Stabilization and Association process.

Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on these issues in recent years, including in: “Not on the Agenda: The Continuing Failure to Address Accountability in Kosovo Post March-2004,” “Unfinished Business: Serbia’s War Crimes Chamber,” and “Narrowing the Impunity Gap: Trials before Bosnia’s War Crimes Chamber.”

In Human Rights Watch May 2006 report on Kosovo “Not on the Agenda,” we assessed inadequate witness protection and relocation as one of the key impediments to proper functioning of the criminal justice system in Kosovo. Since witness relocation inside Kosovo or the Balkans is by common consensus deemed ineffective, the only way to provide protection for some witnesses testifying in cases falling into the “serious crimes” category (including war crimes and organized crime cases), and hence secure their testimony, is to relocate them to a third country outside the Balkans.

The number of cases of witnesses who need to be relocated out of Kosovo is not overwhelming (a handful of cases thus far in 2007, albeit involving family members as well as witnesses). Yet, to date, EU and other western governments have been reluctant to relocate witnesses from Kosovo on their territories, in part because of broader policy concerns relating to migration and asylum. Kosovo’s unusual legal status as a UN protectorate in Kosovo has also complicated efforts to reach agreement.

Without progress on this issue, it will be hard to move towards an effective justice system in Kosovo. Human Rights Watch therefore recommends that the EU Member States commit themselves to finding a collective solution to this problem, by expressing their willingness to accept and accommodate the witnesses who need to be relocated. A common declaration at the Troika meeting would be a welcome first step toward establishing a coordinated approach to this issue, based on solidarity and fair burden sharing. The commitment of EU Member States would encourage people to testify in organized crimes and war crimes related cases, improving the overall functioning of the criminal justice system in Kosovo, and assisting efforts to combat organized crime, which impacts both the Western Balkans and the EU.

The second issue on which we ask for your support is ensuring that the EU and its Member States retain a principled approach towards Western Balkan countries, as regards their cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the need for fair and effective domestic war crimes trials.

Human Rights Watch believes that in order to avoid politicizing justice, clear cooperation benchmarks need to be firmly adhered to. In the case of Serbia, this means that full cooperation with the ICTY, which includes the arrest and transfer of fugitive Ratko Mladic, must remain a non-negotiable precondition for the completion of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations between the EU and Serbia.

Human Rights Watch also believes that the EU should emphasize the importance of domestic efforts to prosecute war crimes. The ICTY has made notable progress, but by the end of its mandate, it will have tried only a limited number of perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Fair and effective trials of the numerous remaining suspects at the domestic level are essential to further combat impunity in the region and to build respect for the rule of law. As such, the EU should consider the progress made at the domestic level in bringing those suspects to justice for war crimes as a part of the rule of law progress assessment in the context of the Stabilization and Association process.

We welcome further discussion on these important issues and we thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Richard Dicker
Director
International Justice Program
Human Rights Watch