Serbia’s ICTY Obstacle

In spite of largely positive assessments from the ICTY’s chief prosecutor, the USA and Amnesty International concerning co-operation with The Hague Tribunal, The Netherlands remains unwilling to soften its stance towards unblocking Serbia’s SAA and interim trade agreement with the EU.

By Ian Bancroft

Despite signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in April 2008, Serbia’s failure to persuade the EU, particularly The Netherlands, of its full co-operation with the Hague Tribunal has left both the SAA and an interim trade agreement blocked. Though the ICTY’s Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, the Obama administration and Amnesty International have each applauded Serbia’s efforts to apprehend the remaining war crimes suspects, The Netherlands refuses to soften its stance without the arrest and extradition of one of Ratko Mladic.

In his latest report to the UN Security Council, the ICTY’s Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, asserts that Serbia ‘has made additional progress in its co-operation with the Office of the Prosecutor’, including ‘timely responses to the vast majority of requests for assistance…and has addressed nearly all important outstanding requests’.

Brammertz’s largely positive report follows a statement by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who confirmed that the US’s official stance was that Serbia was now cooperating with the Hague Tribunal; an appraisal that Rasim Ljajić, the president of the Serbian National Council for Cooperation with The Hague, believes will have a positive impact on the EU. Ljajic also asserts that the shift of the US policy will help dispel the suspicions retained by others regarding Serbia’s commitment to meeting its international obligations.

In addition, Amnesty International’s recently released report for 2009 also concluded that ‘Serbia [had] made progress in arresting suspects indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) and in prosecuting war crimes in domestic courts’.

Despite these positive assessments from Brammertz, Clinton and Amnesty International, however, The Netherlands still refuses to soften its position. Bart Rijs, a spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry, reaffirmed that, ‘unfreezing the Stabilization and Association Agreement requires full cooperation with the Hague, and the best proof of that is the arrest of Ratko Mladić’.

With EU foreign ministers due to meet in Luxembourg on June 15th, The Netherlands should be encouraged to soften its stance towards Serbia, in recognition of the positive assessments on ICTY co-operation delivered by Brammertz, the USA and Amnesty International, respectively. Failure to do so threatens to unnecessarily delay Serbia’s continued accession towards the EU, at a time when both the SAA and the interim trade agreement would help mitigate some of the impact of the global economic crisis on the Serbian economy.

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