The European Union (EU) should emphasize that Serbia’s full cooperation with the Yugoslav tribunal includes arresting fugitive Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and transferring him to The Hague, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent this week to the EU’s foreign ministers.

The ministers will be meeting as part of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on Monday and have invited Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to brief them on Serbia’s cooperation in the margins of Monday’s meeting.

“The EU must stand firm in insisting that Serbia’s full cooperation includes bringing Mladic to The Hague to face justice,” said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “At this crucial stage of the negotiation process, there should be no discussion of making things easier for Serbia to enter the EU while key indictees remain at large.”

Recent statements by EU officials suggest an attempt to lower the threshold to assess Serbia’s “full cooperation” with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to facilitate the initialing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia. For example, last week EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn characterized full cooperation as “leading to” the arrest of the remaining war criminals, including Mladic and Karadzic, as opposed to actual arrest and surrender.

In May 2006, the European Union broke off talks with Serbia over the agreement, citing Serbia’s failure to ensure Mladic is arrested and handed over to the tribunal. In November, the European Commission emphasized that full cooperation is a precondition for resuming the talks. In February 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Serbia’s failure to transfer Mladic to the tribunal was a violation of the Genocide Convention, and it ordered Serbia to cooperate fully with it.

Brussels resumed talks last June after Belgrade cooperated in the arrest of Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir. Serbia also played a role in the arrest of its former police general, Vlastimir Djordjevic, later the same month. However, according to the tribunal’s prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, Serbia’s cooperation has slowed in recent weeks.