The European Union’s (EU) signing of the Stabilization Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia today despite Belgrade’s failure to arrest accused war criminal Ratko Mladic is a setback to those seeking justice for genocide in Srebrenica, Human Rights Watch said today. EU member states should refuse to allow Serbia to take additional steps toward EU membership without full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), including the surrender of Mladic.

Mladic is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

The signing of the SAA is the first step toward EU membership. The EU has repeatedly indicated that full cooperation with the ICTY, including the surrender of Mladic to The Hague, is necessary for Serbia’s progress toward accession. Serbia’s previous non-cooperation with the ICTY, including the failure to arrest Mladic, led to the suspension of SAA negotiations in May 2006.

“The EU’s signing of the SAA despite Mladic’s continued status as a fugitive is a blow to the Bosnian victims and their families who have long awaited justice for the tragedy of Srebrenica,” said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Signing the SAA was a major carrot to induce Serbia to show its commitment to the rule of law and human rights by arresting Mladic. The EU has given that away.”

The next step on the road toward EU membership is for the SAA to undergo the ratification process in all 27 EU states.

“We look to EU countries that support justice to refuse to ratify the SAA with Serbia without Mladic’s arrest,” said Leicht. “Failure to do so would mean moving toward EU membership the first country found to be violating the Genocide Convention. This stands in contradiction to the EU members’ professed dedication to human rights principles.”

On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice ruled that Serbia breached its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide by failing to prevent or punish the genocide at Srebrenica. In particular, the court found that Serbia’s failure to transfer Mladic to the ICTY amounts to an ongoing violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention. The ruling marked the first time that the court had found a country in violation of the Genocide Convention.