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

EU Should Keep Up Pressure on Belgrade

By Simon Jennings

We have heard a lot about Serbia's newfound appetite for international justice, and that the European Union should reward its recent efforts, but let's not forget that the man blamed for the worst massacre on European soil since World War Two is still living freely in the Balkans and that his victims still have no justice.

Thirteen years after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia ended, former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and ex-police chief Stojan Zupljanin were arrested last summer, setting EU chiefs gushing about Serbia’s long awaited “full cooperation” with the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and its readiness for EU membership.



But Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander charged with orchestrating the 1995 Srebrenica genocide – when nearly 8,000 Bosniaks were carted off for slaughter – continues to evade justice. The ex-Serb leader in Croatia, Goran Hadzic, also remains on the run.



Given the recent arrests, not to mention the seriousness of the charges against Mladic, it is regrettable that European chiefs are looking to relax their strict conditions on movement towards integration just when they are starting to work.



The EU told Serbia last week that pre-membership negotiations remained frozen until there was full cooperation with the ICTY, but it is no secret that most member states actually want movement now.



According to one European diplomat, “the vast majority” of EU members support initiating a trade agreement with Serbia before any more arrests are made or full cooperation with the tribunal is achieved.



“We think that the Serbian government has shown some very serious pro-European attitude and approaches recently,” he said. “What they have shown to us, European politicians, merits some kind of gesture from the European Union side.”



Only The Netherlands and Belgium remain rightfully adamant that justice for the war’s monstrous crimes should not be exchanged for morale-boosting trade deals. Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen has stuck admirably to his guns and, it is said, will continue to do so until Mladic is in The Hague.



Meanwhile, other EU statesmen and their Brussels counterparts seem to have wildly misunderstood what is at stake.



We are talking about a genocide that happened just 13 years ago and a supposed perpetrator who has allegedly been enjoying the good life in Serbia ever since.



The ICTY has a photograph of him celebrating a wedding at a Belgrade restaurant in 2002 and media reports suggest he was still receiving a pension from the Bosnian Serb army seven years after Srebrenica.



A second United Nations court, the International Court of Justice, ICJ, in The Hague, also ordered Serbia to hand over Mladic to the ICTY in February 2007. That was almost two years ago.



There can be little doubt that a tough stance on EU progress has helped generate the improvements in Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY we have seen in 2008. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the arrests were more down to Serbia finding the political will to act than actually finding the fugitives themselves; they had been both living right under Belgrade’s nose.



Zupljanin was arrested in the town of Pancevo, a stone’s throw from Belgrade, while Karadzic was finally captured on a bus in Belgrade itself. He had been living a relatively normal life in the city, practicing alternative medicine under a false name, disguised by a long white beard and pony tail.



In his address to the UN Security Council last week, ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said that in searching for Mladic and Hadzic, Serbia needed to “overcome shortcomings of the previous management of the civilian intelligence services”.



“In particular, their failure to analyse and act upon information obtained in relation to the search for the two fugitives,” said Brammertz.



However, despite the failings being attributed to the old establishment, we should resist the temptation of getting ahead of ourselves and seeing last summer’s arrests as a political turnaround in Serbia.



What's more, the arrest of the fugitives aside, Belgrade lags behind in several other areas, such as providing the tribunal with necessary documentary evidence as well as undergoing wider political reform.



Continuing to apply EU leverage in full is the surest means of seeing Mladic in The Hague. And that is what should be the bloc’s ultimate goal, not coming up with creative strategies to skirt around the problem to satisfy Belgrade and Brussels.



Proponents of unfreezing the integration process argue that the pro-European government in Serbia will lose support if they do not receive more encouragement from Brussels.



Although not in favour of ratifying any agreement until full tribunal cooperation is achieved, they see opening up trade talks as an effective way to do this. The Democratic Party-led government was elected in May on the back of its promises of European advancement and has repeatedly voiced fears of a nationalist backlash if Europe does not deliver.



But this is a deceptive message, long repeated by Serbian governments in the hope that the international community will buckle without it having to cooperate.



“We have been hearing this song [from Serbia], ‘you have to help us but we're not going to help ourselves’, for over a decade. The policy was used by [late President Slobodan] Milosevic. It's now being used by the post-Milosevic group and the parliament and government aren't producing reforms,” said James Lyon of the Democratisation Policy Council in Belgrade.



Relaxing EU conditions can only invite lapses in cooperation and stalls in the justice process.



The Netherlands’ long-term stance shows that the EU could and should prevent this and, in so doing, help bring Mladic to The Hague. It is a worry that other European members do not see it that way.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.



The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.