REGIONAL REPORT: Bosnia: Toothless Extradition Law

Republika Srpska has finally passed an extradition law, but it is unlikely to lead many arrests of war crimes suspects.

REGIONAL REPORT: Bosnia: Toothless Extradition Law

Republika Srpska has finally passed an extradition law, but it is unlikely to lead many arrests of war crimes suspects.

The Serbian half of Bosnia has grudgingly enacted a new law allowing it to send suspected war criminals off to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. But the measure appears to lack teeth and its implementation has been so blocked by red tape that early extraditions look unlikely.

It took three sessions before the Republika Srpska, RS, parliament managed to squeeze through on October 2 legislation on cooperation with the tribunal. The act was designed to remove formal legal obstacles which hitherto had prevented the RS judiciary and police from enforcing tribunal indictments.

However, the law cannot come into force until eight days after it is published in the RS Official Gazette. So far the text has not been handed to the publication and there are no signs that it will be.

The Banja Luka daily Nezavisne novine quoted a source close to the government as saying the Serbian Democratic party, SDS, had devised ways to hold up publication of the law indefinitely, thus preventing it from coming into effect.

Extradition is widely unpopular in RS where most citizens like to believe that none of its politicians or soldiers ever committed war crimes during the Bosnian war.

There were strong public objections when the RS premier, Mladen Ivanic, promised to bring in the new law during the September session of the parliament. Debates on the proposed legislation were delayed twice. Eventually, the bill scraped through on Octobery 2, by 42 votes, a majority of one in the 83-member assembly. Deputies of the Socialist Party, SPS, rescued it after five SDS rebels refused to support the vote.

Krstan Simic, MP of the Party of Independent Social-Democrats, said there were serious disagreements in the ruling coalition which comprises the SDS, the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, and the SPS. Simic believed the real reason for the postponements was to enable SDS leaders to persuade rebellious party members to support the law.

The government was believed to have turned down several amendments requested by the SDS rebels, including a provision that a domestic court should first try suspects before they could be sent off to The Hague. The other request was that arrests made so far by SFOR troops should be branded as terrorist acts.

Justice minister, Biljana Maric, said acceptance of the amendments "would

change the very essence of the law". Despite the tight majority and the

fact that the entire parliamentary opposition refused to support the law, Ivanic appeared pleased over its adoption.

Those who would have to implement extradition did not share his view. All IWPR attempts to obtain further comments from the justice minister and the police were unsuccessful. Drago Vucic, secretary general of the SPS said, "I do not expect now that the interior ministry will take over the SFOR role in arresting suspects."

Vucic said the police view is that "persons requested by the tribunal should be talked to and persuaded to surrender voluntarily".

Vucic's party colleague Petar Djokic also expressed doubt in the readiness

of police to make arrests. "At this time I cannot see that a chief of police would issue an arrest order or that a policeman would carry it out if he did," he said. Djokic explained the measure could expect little support from a public which for years has been told that the tribunal was a political court established in order to try the entire Serbian people. "It is hard to change the people's attitude overnight," he said.

Djokic noted that on the day when the law was adopted T-shirts with a picture of indicted former leader Radovan Karadzic and the slogan " Serbian Hero" were being sold in Bijeljina, while fliers appealing to deputies not to support the extradition legislation appeared in Banja Luka. Curiously, though,

hardly anyone has mentioned Karadzic or his co-indictee General Ratko Mladic since the law was adopted.

And deputies will have ample opportunity to the frustrate the extradition process. Vulic noted the new law stipulates that RS should assess whether there is a basis in The Hague indictments for prosecution and to refuse cooperation with the tribunal if the indictments "damage the interests of the RS".

There are 26 persons from RS named in public indictments at The Hague. Since the signing of the Dayton peace agreement, they have had ample time to surrender but few of them have done so. Hence the indifference on the part of the tribunal to the new RS law. All UN member states are obliged to extradite those accused by The Hague court without the need to pass special laws on the matter.

"Now that they have adopted a law that they did not need in the first place, we expect the authorities of Republika Srpska to arrest without delay the 26 persons indicted," commented tribunal spokesman Jim Landale.

Gordana Katana is a member of IWPR's war crimes reporting network, and a Banja Luka correspondent for Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje

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