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

Hague Prosecutor Criticises Serbia at UN Security Council

Serge Brammertz says little action has been taken against those who helped fugitive war crimes suspects.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. (Photo: ICTY)
    Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. (Photo: ICTY)

The Hague tribunal’s chief prosecutor told the United Nations Security Council this week that Serbia had done too little to investigate and prosecute those suspected of assisting war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic while they were fugitives.

Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is required to report to the Security Council every six months, along with the tribunal’s president Judge Theodor Meron, on the court’s progress.

Requests for Serbia to move against those who helped the Bosnian Serbs wartime president Karadzic and army commander Mladic have borne little fruit, Brammertz said in New York on June 7.

“We have raised this issue repeatedly over the last few years, but we see little evidence of action,” he said. “We expect answers to our questions as to how fugitives like Karadzic and Mladic were able to evade justice for so many years and whether state officials were involved in aiding them,” he said.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in 2008 and is currently standing trial at the tribunal. His former subordinate Mladic was apprehended on May 26, 2011, in the Serbian village of Lazarevo. Prosecutors delivered their opening statements in his case on May 16 and 17.

Both men had been at large since they were indicted in 1995.

Brammertz said that during a recent visit to Belgrade, the Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic committed his office to conducting more in-depth investigations into the fugitives’ networks in the coming months.

“We await the results as a matter of priority,” Brammertz said.

Responding to Brammertz’s comments, Feodor Starcevic, Serbia’s representative at the UN in New York, acknowledged the importance of establishing who harboured the suspects. He said Serbian officials had shared information about this with the Hague prosecutor’s office in good faith.

Starcevic reaffirmed Serbia’s commitment to full cooperation with the Hague tribunal, noting that none of the wanted suspects were still at large.

Turning to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brammertz said that “thousands of serious crimes still require follow up” by local officials.

He warned that the Bosnian government’s national strategy for dealing with war crimes, adopted in 2008, would fail unless it was made a top priority and allocated more resources. The strategy was designed as a roadmap for Bosnian courts to better investigate and prosecute war crimes cases.

Brammertz said the success of local war crimes trials depended on greater regional cooperation, particularly between Serbia and Bosnia.

“The proposed war crimes cooperation protocol between prosecution offices in these two countries is still not signed, almost one year after the initial target date,” he said.

Brammertz concluded by chastising Serbia’s new president Tomislav Nikolic for his recent denial that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre – during which more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed – constituted genocide.

In an interview broadcast just hours after he was officially sworn in on May 31, Nikolic said the killings in the eastern Bosnian town were “grave war crimes”, but not genocide, AFP news agency reported.

Nikolic’s comments “are not acceptable”, Brammertz said. “His statements contravene the factual and legal findings of both the [Hague tribunal] and the International Court of Justice,” both of which found that the massacre was genocide.

“Such rhetoric is a backwards step, aggravates the victims’ suffering and jeopardises the fragile process of reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia,” Brammertz added.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.