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

Call for Serbia to Release Confidential Documents

Academics say they want disclosure so that Serbia’s role in the Bosnian war can be assessed objectively.
By IWPR ICTY
A group of international scholars, legal experts, and rights activists have signed an open letter demanding that the minutes from wartime meetings of Serbia’s Supreme Defence Council, SDC, be made public.



The letter, which began circulating on October 10, has already attracted the signatures of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights activists and journalists. Once the number of signatories reaches 100, it will be officially sent to the Serbian government, the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).



In the letter, the group are demanding the minutes be disclosed to the public so that Serbia’s role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war can be assessed objectively.



In February this year, the ICJ handed down its verdict in Bosnia’s lawsuit against Serbia, acquitting Serbia of direct involvement in genocide in the plaintiff country.



During this case, the Bosnian team requested that an uncensored version of all SDC documents be made available to this court and accepted into evidence.



The documents - which Serbia handed over to the ICTY prosecution so that they could be used in the case of former president Slobodan Milosevic - have been marked as confidential and are still not available to the public.



On receiving the documents, the ICTY is thought to have promised not to disclose them to the ICJ.



This decision followed a deal between chief ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and Serbia’s ex-foreign minister Goran Svilanovic, outlined in a letter she sent to him in May 2003, in which she agreed not to challenge Serbia’s right to protect its national interests in relation to the documents.



However, ICJ judges refused to demand these transcripts from the ICTY or to order Serbia to hand over the uncensored minutes of the SDC meetings, saying they had enough evidence to make a judgement in this case.



Signatories of the letter are now saying that this was a politically motivated decision which may have altered the outcome of the ICJ case - and prevented the country being found guilty of genocide.



“We, members of the international academic community, believe that this decision - reached without a review of all the available evidence - amounts to a miscarriage of justice and a betrayal of the principle that international criminal law should act to prevent and punish the crime of genocide,” said the letter.



There has been much speculation that the SDC documents could have been valuable for Bosnia’s ICJ case against Serbia, and could have helped prove the link between Belgrade and Bosnian Serb forces.



This may also explain why Serbia has been so reluctant to reveal them in full.



“It is reasonable to surmise that, had the uncensored minutes of SDC meetings been put before the ICJ, the verdict might have gone differently and Serbia might have been found guilty of genocide,” continued the letter.



“The fact that the court decided not to ask for these minutes leads us to believe that the court's conduct of the case, as well as its verdict, was influenced by political considerations.”



The signatories blame both the ICJ and the ICTY for failing to uphold the principles of international law.



According to them, the ICJ made a huge mistake by not demanding these documents from Serbia - a request which could not have been ignored.



On the other hand, “the ICTY's concession to Serbia was the result of a political agreement reached by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte with the Serbian government, and is therefore evidence again that the international courts have allowed politics to interfere with the legal process”, they claim.



“As representatives of the academic community from all over the world, we demand that the international public be told the whole truth. We therefore request that the full and uncensored minutes of the SDC meetings be made public, so that the role of the Serbia in the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war can be assessed objectively.”



Signatories of the letter include historians Noel Malcolm and Marko Attila Hoare; former ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of the Security Council Diego Arria; French publicist Sylvie Matton; award-winning British journalist Ed Vulliamy; and human rights activist Sonja Biserko.



Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague programme manager.

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