Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Belgrade Agrees to Open Archives

TU No 446, 31-Mar-06
The deal was formalised in correspondence with the president of Serbia’s National Council for Co-operation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic.

Four years have passed since Del Ponte’s office first sought permission to send investigators to conduct research in the Belgrade archives, rather than having to make piecemeal requests for information via local archivists. But Serbian officials have long been reluctant to grant such unrestricted access.

This week’s announcement coincides with Del Ponte’s latest visit to Belgrade to discuss Serbia’s progress in cooperating with the tribunal - in particular in arresting the six remaining fugitives, most notably Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Anton Nikiforov, a special advisor to the prosecutor, told IWPR that the agreement would not allow tribunal prosecutors “blank access” to the archive. Instead, a limited number of trained researchers with the relevant skills would be able to conduct investigations there.

He was also quick to add a note of caution about the whole deal. Referring to Ljajic’s letter of consent, he emphasised that it was “only a piece of paper”, and that so far, negotiations had got no further than “planning the protocol for potential [research] missions”.

He added that all research activity was subject to confidentiality clauses and would be kept well outside the public domain. “We will not be ringing bells and telling people we are going to such and such an archive,” he said.

Evidence which prosecutors will hope to find in the archives, including minutes of government meetings and war council discussions, could be of enormous help in proving command links between high-level accused and military events on the ground.

On March 31, Del Ponte went to Brussels to report on Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal to the European Union enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn. Success in handing over the indicted fugitives is one of the key conditions for Serbia’s negotiations with the EU on future membership.

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