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SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING, AGENDA ITEM: ICTY, STATEMENT BY MR. CEDOMIR BACKOVIC,SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA, NEW YORK , 7. JUNE 2017.

Wednesday, 07 June 2017

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

            Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today as representative of the Republic of Serbia. Let me welcome the Presidents and 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 key principle of the fight against impunity of the most serious international crimes is proven, continuous commitment of the member states. To prove their commitment, states need to align its normative framework with relevant international conventions and the ICTY Statute; to cooperate with the ICTY in order to enable efficient investigation and prosecution; but also to organize their domestic judicial systems in a way that enables independent, impartial and efficient war crimes proceedings.

If we are assessing today to what extent Serbia has fulfilled these requirements it’s clear that Serbia has unambiguously shown its commitment. Our criminal legislation is fully aligned with relevant standards and enables cooperation with the ICTY without exception regarding all acts that the Security Council recognized in the ICTY Statute as serious international crimes. Based on this legislation, Serbia has proven its commitment that has been clearly reflected in the number and rank of defendants who had been surrendered to the ICTY.

The Republic of Serbia has handed over 45 defendants to the Tribunal out of the total of 46 defendants whose surrender has 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.

Distinguished delegates, there is no other country that has surrendered even close to this number of highly ranked officials as Serbia did.  It is clear proof of Serbia’s to prosecute war crimes.

In addition to this, Serbia has enabled the ICTY Prosecutor free access to important evidence located in Serbia, such as documents, archives and witnesses. So far, Serbia has positively resolved 2179 out of 2,180 requests for assistance received from the Offices of the ICTY Prosecutor and the MICT Prosecutor (Serbia has positively resolved all 2172 requests from the Office of the ICTY Prosecutor and seven out of eight requests from the Office of the MICT Prosecutor). Only one request from the Office of the MICT Prosecutor of a newer date is undergoing the realization procedure.

Serbia has allowed 757 witnesses to testify freely despite the right/obligation they had to withhold testimony due to the State, military or official rules regarding privileged information. 1,329 requests were issued by various defense teams; no pending requests for assistance or disputes in this regard are recorded.

Serbia has carried out all 11 requests for witness protection and efficiently monitored all provisional release cases and ensured that all accused were returned to detention on ICTY upon request. Currently, Serbian authorities monitor two cases of provisional release.

In parallel with the contribution to the ICTY work, Serbia showed the indisputable commitment to continuously fight against impunity for core international crimes through the proceedings before national courts. Serbian authorities have strategic approach which is visible from the obligations that Serbia took through the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes adopted by Government in 2016. Both documents have as a back bone the idea of zero tolerance for impunity regardless of the ethnicity, religion or rank of victim or perpetuator.  Both documents have been welcomed by the highest Serbian officials as evinced in numerous public statements. These facts stand squarely against the assertions made by Mr. Bramertz.

Mr. President,

Freedom of speech is highly ranked on the list of Serbian priorities and every citizen is free to express its opinion without consequences as long as his statements do not constitute a criminal offence. However, single statements of some individuals or civil society organizations, should not be interpreted as an official position of the State.  Serbian commitment should not be judged on anything other than results made so far in cooperation with the ICTY, prosecution of war crimes before domestic courts and regional cooperation. Generalizations based on impressions, speculation, conjectures and innuendo cannot contribute to the fair assessment of the situation.

Distinguished delegates,

We are aware that prolonged procedure for election of the new Prosecutor took some time and caused delays in the Strategy implementation but it doesn’t mean that there has been no progress.

  • On the contrary, Serbia actively works on strengthening the WCPO capacities. In addition to the appointment of the new Prosecutor, the election procedure for three more deputy prosecutors is ongoing.
  •  A new Prosecutorial Strategy is going to be finalized and adopted in the next few months.
  • The trial monitoring of war crimes proceedings will start again in September together with a special training for judges, public prosecutors and police officers in charge of investigation and prosecution of war crimes. 
  • The amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted few months ago in order to align it with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
  • The numerous activities have been taken in order to improve the position of victims and witnesses in line with international standards.
  • 10 indictments for war crimes against 21 individuals have been confirmed in Serbia in 2016 and 2017.

Mr. President,

We understand Mr. Bramertz’s concerns about reconciliation and cooperation in the region but I need to emphasize that regional cooperation remains a priority for Serbia. Our single commitment is visible from statistical data on regional cooperation but only quality and quantity of our efforts could be the subject of assessment when we are talking about Serbia’s commitment to regional cooperation. Reciprocity is needed if we are to achieve more results in regional cooperation.

According to statistics of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, as of December 2016 Serbia has resolved positively:

 -38 out of 52 requests coming from BIH. 9 request have been denied while 5 requests still pending;

-50 out of 78 cases coming from Croatia. 11 requests have been denied while 17 requests still pending.

In parallel, only 10 out of 22 Serbian requests have been positively resolved by BIH. The result is even worse regarding requests for assistance submitted to Croatia. Only 10 out of 27 requests have been positively resolved.

Mr. President,

Serbia should not be negatively assessed because of its respects for its own Constitution, laws and court decisions which are all in accord with the basic legal principles. After all, the rule of law and separation of powers are key principles of all traditional or modern democracies. Having this in mind,

-Could we elect the Prosecutor or her deputies without conducting a procedure in accordance with relevant laws and contrary to the autonomy of the Public Prosecution Service and freedom of the members of the Parliament to vote or not to vote for proposed candidates?

-Could we surrender the Petar Jojić, Vjerica Radeta and Jovo Ostojić contrary to court decision based on the Law of Serbia and the Statute of the ICTY?

-Could we finish Djukić case ignoring the procedural rights of the accused?

The answer, of course, is: No.

Mr. President,

Distinguished Delegates,

In conclusion, Serbia’s commitment to cooperation with the ICTY, but also to dealing efficiently with war crimes before its own courts is indisputable. We want to believe that other Governments in the region are equally willing to work together on the reconciliation, cooperation and stability in the region supporting, all along, the ICTY to accomplish its mission. We also hope that ICTY and MICT officials will recognize the efforts of our Government to promote these values.

Thank you, Mr. President