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US: Maintain Principled and Consistent Approach to Serbia's Cooperation with ICTY

Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton, 

In advance of your meetings in Belgrade, Human Rights Watch is writing to ask you to exercise your leadership to ensure that the United States maintains a principled and consistent approach towards Serbia in relation to its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In particular, we urge the US to reaffirm its call for Serbia to arrest ICTY's remaining fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, and reiterate the US's continuing commitment to justice for crimes committed during the Balkans conflicts.

Human Rights Watch continues to believe that firm international pressure represents the best hope that ICTY's remaining two fugitives will be brought to justice. We have seen that pressure has been essential to securing the arrests of other high-level fugitives, including Radovan Karadzic and Ante Gotovina. International 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. Backtracking on justice issues would undermine efforts to move Serbia towards a stable and democratic future based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and significantly increase the risk that war crimes suspects in Serbia indicted by the ICTY will never face justice.

The risk is particularly great now as the ICTY 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. Thus weakened international resolve on arrests would serve to strengthen the less progressive forces in Serbia, who believe they can outwait the ICTY.

The passage of nearly fifteen years since the massacre of men and boys at Srebrenica has not quelled the victims' desire for justice. The genocide at Srebrenica was the worst crime in Europe since the end of the Second World War. One of the indicted architects, Radovan Karadzic, is already in the dock. But if his fellow indicted architect, Ratko Mladic, is 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 transfer suspects accused of genocide to the ICTY and otherwise to cooperate fully with the tribunal.

The United States played a key role in the creation of the ICTY and has continued to be a staunch supporter of the tribunal. Indeed, US support was essential in securing the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001. Equivocation now on the need for apprehension of fugitives will severely damage the US government's credibility to speak forcefully on behalf of justice and undercut respect for the rule of law everywhere in the world. It will also give ammunition to those who believe double-standards exist for perpetrators outside of Africa. 

We therefore hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity and reaffirm the US's commitment toward ending impunity for serious crimes.


Kenneth Roth, Executive Director

Human Rights Watch

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