We are concerned by recent reports indicating that Serbia's European Union (EU) membership application may be accelerated without addressing the question of Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In particular, we understand that there is support among some member states for passing Serbia's application on to the Commission so it can begin preparation of its official assessment, with a decision possible as soon as the next General Affairs Council meeting.
Prior to taking such a significant step, we urge you to maintain a firm and consistent approach towards Serbia in relation to its cooperation with the ICTY. At the very least, such a decision should not be taken without further consultations with the ICTY prosecutor.
In ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz's June 18 report to the UN Security Council, he acknowledged that Serbia "has continued to respond adequately to requests for assistance, by providing access to documents, archives and witnesses." Nevertheless, Brammertz noted that Serbia's efforts to arrest both Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic "have thus far produced few tangible results." More recently, on September 20, Brammertz indicated clearly that he is dissatisfied with Serbia's efforts to arrest Mladic, noting a gap between political pronouncements by Serbian authorities and the action he sees being taken on the ground. He urged European capitals to maintain pressure on Serbia stating that "[t]he non-arrest of Mladic would be the worst signal you could give to all future tribunals. It would somehow give the signal to perpetrators that you can sit out international justice; that political interest is diminishing over times and that at the end of the day, impunity prevails."
While the decision to move forward with Serbia's membership application is for the European Union, the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY remains best placed to assess whether full cooperation has been achieved. To ensure that any decisions about whether cooperation has been satisfactory are fully informed, the Council should wait to hear the prosecutor's next report on Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal in December before making any decisions about moving its application forward. At the very least, we urge the Council to consult with the ICTY prosecutor and take into account his current assessment of Serbia's cooperation before determining whether to pass its application to the Commission. Such a significant decision should be reflective of the most up-to-date information possible.
Passing Serbia's application to the European Commission in the absence of full cooperation would remove a critical leverage point for the EU to press Serbia for the arrest of Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. The ICTY is engaged in a completion strategy and is scheduled to complete all first instance trials by the end of 2012. While some residual capacity to try cases may remain, the closure of the Office of the Prosecutor will make it difficult to assess Serbia's cooperation on war crimes, and may lessen the pressure for action.
Human Rights Watch continues to believe that firm EU pressure represents the best hope that the remaining two fugitives will be brought to justice. As you know, Mladic's co-accused, Radovan Karadzic, is currently in the dock in The Hague. Mladic's absence at his side is an affront to the victims of Srebrenica.
EU conditionality has been central to delivering justice for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Preserving the EU's firm conditionality policy on ICTY cooperation remains essential for justice for the victims of Srebrenica and other serious crimes. It is also a crucial component of the EU's efforts to move Serbia towards a stable and democratic future based on respect for human rights and rule of law.
It will not be enough for the EU to generally reaffirm that ICTY cooperation remains a condition for definite accession to the EU, while allowing Serbia's membership application to move forward. The EU must continue to insist on evidence of Serbia's full cooperation with the ICTY as condition for closer ties.
We hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity and reaffirm the EU's commitment toward ending impunity for serious crimes.
Lotte Leicht, European Union Director
Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director