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

Tribunal: Feb ‘08

Project publishes probing articles on Serbia’s past and present cooperation with the Hague court.
The tribunal project was this month preoccupied with two momentous political events in Serbia which had a strong bearing on Belgrade’s cooperation with the court - the closely-run presidential election and Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

It was necessary to hold a run-off in the presidential election, to decide a winner between incumbent president Boris Tadic and hardliner Tomislav Nikolic of the Serb Radical Party, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial for war crimes at the Hague tribunal.

In his pre-election campaign, Nikolic repeatedly said he would not cooperate with the tribunal and would make Serbia “the safest place on earth for war crimes fugitives”. Four Hague indictees are still on the run, and three of them are believed to be hiding in Serbia.

Since pro-western Tadic won only by narrow margin, in our February 8 article, Tadic Facing Sterner Opposition to Hague Cooperation, we looked into problems increased influence of Serbian hardliners might create for the re-elected president should he step up efforts to arrest the remaining fugitives.

Just when the issue of cooperation with the Hague tribunal was placed back on Serbia’s agenda after a few weeks’ lull during the elections, Kosovo proclaimed independence on February 17 and threw the country into a state of complete chaos.

A few days later, mass meetings were held in Belgrade, attended by hundreds of thousands of Serbs angered by the West’s apparent willingness to recognise Kosovo. An angry mob stormed US, British, Canadian, Turkish and several other embassies in Belgrade; one person died and 150 were injured during the unrest.

As a result, the European Union put on hold all talks with Belgrade on Serbia’s future membership, which was earlier conditioned on the arrest of top war crimes fugitive, former Bosnian army chief Ratko Mladic.

In our February 22 piece, Belgrade Violence Shakes EU Convictions, we looked at how the EU had apparently misjudged Serbia’s willingness to sacrifice Kosovo for the membership of the union.

Soon after the protests in Belgrade, Serbia isolated itself, withdrawing ambassadors from all countries which recognised Kosovo’s independence. This is a worrying development as it looks as if pursuing war crimes fugitives will be put on the back burner until things have calmed down.

Another important article published this month was How Belgrade Escaped Genocide Charge by Belgrade contributor Slobodan Kostic. In this article, Kostic investigated steps Serbia made a few years ago to prevent Bosnia from getting hold of key state documents from the wartime period.

It is widely thought that these documents could have proven Serbia’s direct responsibility for the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, and maybe even changed the outcome of Bosnia’s genocide case against Serbia before the Hague-based International Court of Justice, ICJ.

Kostic conducted interviews with Serbia’s top politicians and legal experts over several weeks. His report suggested Belgrade was fully aware of the consequences that revealing these documents would have had for Serbia, and made sure they remained hidden from the public until the ICJ ruled in this case.

Since February 26 was the first anniversary of the ICJ ruling in Bosnia’s genocide case, this was the main subject of another piece we published this month - Bosnia: New Row over ICJ Ruling. In this article, we analysed the consequences of the verdict on Bosnia and Serbia and looked at whether anything changed over the last 12 months as a result of the judgment.

This article was also picked up by many NGOs and human rights groups, such as the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, the Bosnian Institute in London, among others.

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