Friday, March 25, 2005

A new report from Amnesty International charges that Serbia-Montenegro has failed to fulfil human rights commitments it made when it joined the CoE

By Robert Herschbach for Southeast European Times – 25/03/05

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and other top officials say efforts to co-operate with The Hague tribunal are producing results. [UNDP]

Serbia-Montenegro has not lived up to the commitments it made when it entered the Council of Europe (CoE) two years ago, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday (22 March). Characterising 2004 as a "wasted year" in terms of Belgrade's international obligations, the report cites poor co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal, problems with domestic war crimes trials, failure to establish the truth about missing persons and bring perpetrators to justice, and other areas of concern.

"Many of those responsible for the gravest human rights violations during the armed conflicts after the breakup of Yugoslavia continue to enjoy impunity," the human rights watchdog group said. "Despite international and national obligations, authorities … refuse to arrest and transfer people indicted by the tribunal, relying instead on voluntary surrenders, and rarely prosecute such crimes domestically."

Top officials, including Serbian President Boris Tadic, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and federal President Svetozar Marovic, have insisted that the voluntary approach is producing results. Eight indictees have surrendered to the tribunal during the last two months. Among them are former Yugoslav Army chief Momcilo Perisic and Bosnian Serb General Vinko Pandurevic, who flew to The Hague Wednesday.

While progress has been made, the report says, the government's approach is in violation of its obligations as a UN member state. Moreover, 12 fugitives remain at large, including ex-generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Sreten Lukic, who live openly in Serbia. UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has charged that Ratko Mladic, one of the court's three most-wanted indictees, is receiving assistance from a support network within official structures, including the Serbian military.

Meanwhile, the process of trying war criminals in domestic courts has been sluggish and incomplete, the organisation says. Only three cases are currently under way, and two of them have been drawn out because of higher-court reversals. In January, the Supreme Court annulled the conviction of Sasa Cvetjan, a member of the "Scorpions" special police unit implicated in the 1999 murder of 19 ethnic Albanians in Podjevo. In September 2004, the Court annulled the convictions of four men charged with the abduction and killing of 17 Muslims. Eighteen people are on trial in connection with the Ovcara massacre near Vukovar, Croatia in 1992, but the indictment failed to include former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) officers implicated in the atrocity.

Prosecuting only low-level perpetrators "encourages the culture of impunity for the military and political leadership," the report says.

No one has been charged in connection with the burial of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians in mass graves located on government property, Amnesty International notes. The assassinations of journalists Slavko Curuvija and Milan Panic and numerous other cases -- including the death of two soldiers outside an army barracks rumoured to have provided shelter for Mladic -- remain unsolved.

The document also expresses concern about the treatment of Roma, especially those displaced as a result of the Kosovo conflict, and warns that Serbia's legislation on conscientious military service continues to be in breach of Council of Europe standards. While holding Serbia responsible for the bulk of human rights issues affecting the state union, the report also cites allegations of high-level complicity in a human trafficking case in Montenegro.

Belgrade, meanwhile, has launched a diplomatic initiative aimed at showing that progress has been made in co-operation with the UN tribunal. Meeting with EU officials in Brussels, Tadic and Kostunica both pledged that remaining obligations would be met. Earlier this week, the federal council for co-operation with the UN tribunal endorsed a move to freeze the assets of fugitive indictees, and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus has indicated that authorities are prepared to go beyond the voluntary surrender approach.

Serbia-Montenegro is hoping to receive a positive EU feasibility study on its prospects for accession, but officials in Brussels have made it clear that such an outcome depends largely on co-operation with The Hague.

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