The European Union should send a strong message to Serbia that full cooperation with the Yugoslav tribunal, including the arrest and surrender of Bosnian war fugitive Ratko Mladic, remains necessary for EU membership, Human Rights Watch said in a letter issued today. On December 8 and 9, 2008, foreign ministers of EU member states will meet in Brussels as part of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) and are expected to adopt conclusions relating to the EU’s enlargement strategy.  

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander during the war in Bosnia, on charges of 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 1995, the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War.  

“Belgrade’s undeniable progress in arresting fugitives and surrendering them to The Hague should not be confused with full cooperation,” said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “It just proves that maintaining the EU’s leverage over Serbia is the only way to ensure that the remaining fugitives, including Mladic, will face justice in The Hague.”  

Earlier this year, Serbian authorities arrested and surrendered to the tribunal the indicted former Bosnian Serb police commander, Stojan Zupljanin, and the top former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, the alleged architect of the Srebrenica massacre. While these are important developments, Human Rights Watch said that these arrests do not constitute full cooperation.  

In April 2008, the EU signed the Stabilization Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, the first step toward EU membership. The next step is for the agreement to undergo the ratification process in all 27 EU states. The EU has repeatedly indicated that full cooperation with the tribunal, including the surrender of Mladic to The Hague, is necessary for Serbia’s progress toward accession. Serbia’s previous failure to cooperate with the tribunal, including the failure to arrest Mladic, led to the suspension of SAA negotiations in May 2006.

The determination regarding the extent of Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY rests with the tribunal’s prosecutor. The current prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, will make public his assessment of Serbia’s cooperation next week in his briefing before the United Nations Security Council.

 Background

Mladic has been at liberty since his indictment in 1995. 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 tribunal amounts to an ongoing violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention. It was the first time that the court had found a country in violation of the Genocide Convention.  

Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the tribunal for his role in the persecution of Croat and other non-Serb civilians in parts of Serb-controlled Croatia, also remains at large and is believed to be within the reach of Serbian authorities.