(Brussels) - The European Union (EU) should demonstrate its commitment to justice by requiring Serbia to arrest the Bosnian Serb's wartime military leader, Ratko Mladic, before allowing Serbia to establish closer ties with the EU, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to EU foreign affairs ministers today. On June 14, 2010, the EU Foreign Affairs Council will consider starting the ratification process for a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia, a key step toward possible EU membership.
A failure by the EU to insist on full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), including Mladic's surrender, would significantly diminish chances of full accountability for the genocide in Srebrenica. More than 7,000 men and boys were massacred after the fall of the enclave in July 1995.
"The passage of 15 years has not diminished the survivors' desire for justice," said Geraldine Mattioli Zeltner, advocacy director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Serbia's desire for closer ties to the EU offers the best hope that Mladic may one day face trial."
A recently amended indictment by the tribunal charges Mladic with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in relation to the genocide at Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the siege of Sarajevo, and the taking of UN personnel as hostages. He has been wanted by the tribunal since July 1995.
On June 10, seven former high-ranking Bosnian Serb military and police officers were convicted of crimes in relation to the fall of Srebrenica and Zena in 1995. However, Mladic, as the most senior officer of the Bosnian Serb army during the war, is widely believed to be the architect of the massacre at Srebrenica and without his trial, many victims will feel that justice has not been completely served.
The EU has repeatedly indicated that full cooperation with the tribunal is necessary for Serbia's progress toward accession. Serbia's previous lack of cooperation with the tribunal, including the failure to arrest Mladic, led to the suspension of negotiations toward a Stabilization Association Agreement (SAA) in May 2006. Despite the failure to arrest Mladic, the EU signed an SAA with Serbia in April 2008. At the June 14 meeting, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers will discuss whether to begin the ratification process for the agreement.
All 27 EU member states must ratify the agreement for it to enter into force. So far, only the Netherlands and Belgium have publicly said they would not ratify the agreement because of Serbia's outstanding obligations with respect to the tribunal. The EU's insistence on full cooperation with the tribunal has previously led to the arrests of high-level fugitives, including Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb's wartime leader who is currently on trial for the Srebrenica killings, and the Croatian general Ante Gotovina. It has also resulted in improved sharing of information with the tribunal.
"The EU has often stated its commitment to battling impunity for the most serious crimes," Mattioli Zeltner said. "Now it needs to put words into action and show that it will follow through with its principles at home."
Human Rights Watch noted that on May 25, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to international justice by adopting a set of conclusions supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) in advance of the ICC Review Conference. Some African leaders have voiced criticism that international justice has been used by the West as a tool against Africa. Now is the chance for the EU to demonstrate that it is committed to justice wherever the crimes are committed and that it will not be complacent with regard to ICTY cooperation, Human Rights Watch said.
On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice ruled that Serbia had breached its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide by failing to prevent or punish the genocide at Srebrenica. It was the first time the court had found a country in violation of the convention. In particular, the court found that Serbia's failure to transfer Mladic to the tribunal amounted to an ongoing violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention, On March 31, 2010, the Serbian National Assembly condemned the crimes at Srebrenica and apologized to the victims.