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STATEMENT BY MR. CEDOMIR BACKOVIC, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GOVERNMENTOF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA, 8 DECEMBER 2016.

Thursday, 08 December 2016

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you for the first time as representative of the Republic of Serbia. Let me welcome the Presidents and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). I thank them for their semi-annual reports.

 

Mr. President,

The fight against impunity for serious international crimes is the milestone of the Rule of Law principle on the international level. The unambiguous willingness of States to cooperate with the ICTY regarding all acts that the Security Council recognizes in the ICTY Statute as serious international crimes should be viewed as a  contribution to this fight. Serbia’s contribution in this regard is best evinced by the statistics on its cooperation with the ICTY. Parallel to the cooperation, the authorities of my country continue to fight impunity for core international crimes through the proceedings before national courts.

The Republic of Serbia handed over 45 defendants to the Tribunal out of the total of 46 whose surrender had been demanded from Serbia. One defendant committed suicide before he could be handed over to the Tribunal.

Of this number:

- 14 defendants were arrested in the Republic of Serbia;

-  4 defendants were arrested abroad within the framework of cooperation between national security services with foreign agencies;

- 27 defendants voluntarily surrendered.

Serbia also enabled the ICTY Prosecutor free access to important evidence located in Serbia, such as documents, archives and witnesses. So far, Serbia has positively resolved 2,151 out of 2,172 requests for assistance received from the Office of the ICTY Prosecutor and 7 requests for assistance from the Office of the MICT Prosecutor.

Serbia allowed 757 witnesses to testify freely despite the right and/or obligation they had to withhold testimony due to State, military or official secrets. 1,332 requests were issued by various defence teams; no pending requests for assistance or disputes in this regard are recorded.

Serbia carried out all 11 requests for witness protection. It is also important to note that the Government agencies successfully monitored all provisional release cases and ensured that all accused were returned to detention on ICTY request. Currently, the Serbian authorities monitor two cases of provisional release.

In addition to cooperation with the ICTY, Serbia remains committed to improving the efficiency of domestic war crimes proceedings. This is evinced by the obligations that Serbia undertook by the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes adopted by the Serbian Government earlier this year, as well as by the fact that 8 indictments for war crimes against 15 individuals have been confirmed in Serbia in 2016.

 

 

Distinguished Delegates,

Accountability for the core international crimes, regardless of the national, ethnic or religious status of the perpetrator or the victim, as well as reconciliation and cooperation in the region remain priorities for Serbia. However, it is important to note that all these goals could not be reached through the unilateral acts of Serbia. Regional cooperation in this regard is necessary. Serbia has been committed to improving this cooperation; of course, similar commitment is needed on the part of other countries in the region.

 

Mr. President,

Serbia is aware that non-election of a new War Crimes Prosecutor has caused some delays in the implementation of the strategic documents in Serbia, but I am glad to inform that the new election procedure is almost completed. That procedure must be done in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws and full respect for the autonomy of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, as well as the independence of,  and democracy within, the National Assembly. None of these authorities should be exposed to pressures or any inappropriate internal or external influences when deciding on candidates for the position of the War Crimes Prosecutor. However, the War Crime Prosecutor’s Office performs its duties diligently; the number of confirmed indictments testifies to it. This is also in line with Serbia’s commitment to strengthening institutions irrespective of who the leader of the country is.

 

Mr. President,

Notwithstanding the clear legal arguments to the contrary, there is still criticism concerning Jojić et al. case in the new Prosecutor's Report. Serbia is faced again with accusations for non-extradition of three individuals: Petar Jojić, Vjerica Radeta and Jovo Ostojić according to the warrants of arrest issued by the ICTY Trial Chamber in the case of contempt of court.

Let me remind you of the Belgrade High Court decision issued on 18 May  2016. The High Court in Belgrade decided that the legal conditions for the executions of the Tribunal's warrants were not fulfilled in this case, because the Law on cooperation with the ICTY stipulates that only the indictment for core statutory crimes, i.e. grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; violations of the laws or customs of war; genocide etc. provide a legal ground for the execution of ICTY arrest warrants - as opposed to an indictment for contempt of court. Of course, the Serbian Law on cooperation with the ICTY closely follows the provisions of the ICTY Statute.

Through the adoption and full implementation of the Law on cooperation with the ICTY Serbia proved its commitment to prosecution of all crimes that the Security Council has listed in the ICTY Statute. Under the Serbian Constitution the courts are autonomous and independent in their operations and adjudicate in accordance with the Constitution, laws, generally accepted rules of international law and other ratified international treaties.

Serbia has never failed to execute an ICTY arrest warrant based on the ICTY Statute as the generally accepted rules of international law. The Belgrade High Court decision does not preclude future cooperation in the same manner. However, there is no legal basis for the subject extradition. Similarly, the French authorities have applied the identical provision of the French law to the identical situation and refused extradition in the case of Florence Hartmann (Note Verbale of the Embassy of France in The Hague No. 1108 of 27 December 2011). This decision has not been reported to the Security Council as improper in any way.

Let me sum this up. The Statute simply does not provide for the surrender of the indictees accused for contempt of court. It is not written in the Statute. Assumingly, had this Council intended to have other than serious crimes, other crimes, serve as a basis for extradition, it would have written so in the Statute.  Article 29, mentioned herein, does not provide for it. Please take a look at it. Nor does any of the provisions of the Statute provide for it. Such an interpretation of the Statute fails. And would have failed probably in most of your countries, in your internal law. Probably, and it is very possible, that the intent of this Council to provide for the prosecution and the jurisdiction of the Tribunal only for the serious crimes had to the with the resources that the Council dedicated to this process at the time.

The second point I want to make has to do with the confirmation of the judgment in the Djukić case., i. e. the judgment that was rendered by the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina and since Mr. Djukić is now in Serbia, in Belgrade, it has to be confirmed. So far, the process of confirmation has taken a year. Six hearings were held at which Mr. Djukić did not appear due to health reasons of which presented a doctor’s note. Because of these circumstances, the judge ordered that his health situation be assessed by an expert witness and see whether or not he actually could stand the hearings on the confirmation of the judgment. There is no refusal by Serbia to confirm the judgement, there is no failure to confirm the judgment. The period of one year, compared with the periods the Tribunal takes in various cases, is not that excessive. So, there is no point in criticizing these particular facts as Serbia is committed to respecting all its international and bilateral agreements in that regard.

In conclusion, let me point out that Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY is second to none. Serbia remains committed to actively contributing to ICTY efforts to accomplish its mission as well as to efficiently prosecuting war crimes before domestic courts. This is the only way to reach the justice for victims regardless of their national, ethnic or religious origin. We shall continue to strive for reconciliation, cooperation and stability in the region. Citizens from all former Yugoslav republics deserve it.

Thank you, Mr. President.