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Letter to H.E. Maxime Vernhagen: Netherlands Should Play Pivotal Role in EU/Serbia Talks

Full cooperation with the ICTY should remain a pre-condition for closer EU ties

To H.E. Maxime Verhagen
Foreign Affairs Minister
The Netherlands

Your Excellency,

On Monday June 14, the Foreign Affairs Council will once again consider establishing closer ties with Serbia during discussion of the ratification status of Serbia's Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). We urge The Netherlands to continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that the European Union (EU) maintains a principled and consistent stance requiring full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) before accelerating Serbia's progress towards the EU.

The ICTY prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, is due to present his bi-annual report to the Security Council on June 18 and is expected to comment on the status of Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal.

We are disappointed to read recent reports that The Netherlands may be considering waiving its objections to the ratification of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia.[1] The Netherlands had, to date, taken the very principled position of refusing to ratify the SAA unless full cooperation with the ICTY was satisfied. At a hearing in parliament on December 9, 2009, you re-affirmed that the arrest of Ratko Mladic and his surrender to the tribunal in The Hague remained a condition for the ratification of the SAA.[2] Human Rights Watch has hailed[3] this approach by your government as crucial to maintaining EU pressure on Serbia, which, in turn, is instrumental for the ICTY to obtain the cooperation it needs in order to carry out its mandate.

Indeed, we have seen that the prospect of closer relations with the EU has been the key impetus for increased cooperation by Serbia with the ICTY.  Firm pressure from the EU has been essential to securing the arrests of high-level fugitives, including Radovan Karadzic. EU pressure has also been a key factor in stimulating increased cooperation by Serbia with the ICTY in the area of investigations and transfer of documents and evidence requested. The possibility of EU membership was an important factor leading Serbia's parliament to pass a resolution condemning the crimes at Srebrenica and apologizing to the victim's families on March 31.  This was a welcome step, but more needs to be done. Though the Serbian resolution called for the arrest of Ratko Mladic, his arrest is unlikely to occur without continued pressure from the EU.

As such, the importance of preserving the EU's leverage - through a firm and credible conditionality policy - to ensure that the remaining fugitives, including Mladic, are arrested and brought to face justice before the ICTY cannot be overstated. The EU needs to be clear that no further steps will be taken with Serbia toward EU membership unless full cooperation with the ICTY is attained, including the transfer of Mladic to The Hague.

The passage of nearly fifteen years since the massacre of men and boys at Srebrenica has not quelled the victims' desire for justice.  The fall of Srebrenica is for many emblematic of the atrocities committed during the Balkans wars. If those alleged to be most responsible for that crime are not held to account, many will feel justice has not been served.  Arresting Mladic would also bring Serbia into compliance with the International Court of Justice's order to cooperate fully with the ICTY and signal its willingness to adhere fully to the values of the European Union.

The Netherlands' principled position to date has safeguarded the EU's valuable leverage with Serbia. There do not seem to be any developments in Serbia's cooperation that would justify The Netherlands changing its stance at this point. With the ICTY engaged in a completion strategy and winding down its operations, there is a distinct window of opportunity to press Serbia to ensure that the remaining fugitives appear before the tribunal. We respectfully urge The Netherlands to keep its principled attachment to EU conditionality, as testament to its commitment to justice for the victims of grave crimes committed in the Balkans.                                                                                                                                                   


Lotte Leicht, EU director
Richard Dicker, International Justice Program director                                                     


Gerdi Verbeet, President of the Dutch House of Representatives

H.E. Ron J.P.M. van Dartel, Dutch ambassador in Belgrade


[1] "Dutch to drop resistance to Serbia's EU application," Toby Vogel, European Voice, June 10, 2010.

[2] "Dutch Minister Verhagen says SAA hinges on Mladic arrest," December 10, 2009,

[3] "Letter commending Dutch position on SAA with Serbia," Human Rights Watch, February 11, 2008,

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