Distinguished Members of the General Assembly,
It is my honour to speak to you today as representative of the Republic of Serbia.
I would like to welcome Judge Theodor Meron, President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), and Judge Carmel Agius, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and thank them for their annual reports.
Before I proceed, I would like to point out that Serbia aligned itself with the Statement of the European Union made on this subject today.
International courts and tribunals can hardly be expected to achieve their objectives without cooperation and support by United Nations Member States. In this respect, the cooperation and support of my country to the Tribunal and the Mechanism have been very important indeed. All along, Serbia has consistently complied with its international obligations and no request, come its way, has remained unaddressed. It has surrendered the largest number of persons accused by the Tribunal, including the highest-ranking Government officials, and has had an extensive role in making sure that no fugitive indicted for core international crimes is now on the loose.
Serbia also provided the ICTY with important evidence. It received 3.505 requests for assistance concerning access to documents, State archives and witnesses: 2.177 from the Office of the Prosecutor and 1.328 from Defence Counsel teams. And there are no pending cases, except those in which requests have been issued very recently. Serbia carried out all the orders of the judicial chambers for delivering subpoenae ad testificandum in time. All witnesses for whom waivers in respect of State, military or official secrets were requested were allowed to testify freely; all requests for witness protection in the territory of Serbia were complied with; all conditions under which the Tribunal ordered the provisional release of the accused persons were honoured and monitored by the Government agencies and in all those cases the accused were returned to ICTY detention in accordance with the Tribunal’s orders and decisions.
The recent delay in cooperation, though, in the matter of the Trial Chamber’s arrest warrants and its orders for surrender issued against three individuals indicted in a case of contempt of court ensued from the decision of the High Court in Belgrade of 18 May 2016. The Court decided that the legal conditions for the execution of the Tribunal’s warrants were not met in this case on the basis of the stipulation of the domestic Law on cooperation with the ICTY 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; and crimes against humanity constitute a legal ground for the execution of ICTY arrest warrants, but not an indictment for contempt of court. Which is not a crime defined by the ICTY Statute, either. The decision, however, does not stand in the way of Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY and its resolve to help the Tribunal accomplish its mission.
Ever since 2009, Serbia has pleaded with the United Nations to sign an Agreement with the Tribunal on the enforcement of sentences in its prison institutions. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that my country signed such an Agreement with the International Criminal Court in 2011, no progress has been made in respect of the ICTY nor have the relevant organs of the United Nations accorded proper attention to the humanitarian aspect of this request. It is obvious that the recommendation of the Secretary-General to the Security Council from May 1993 to the effect that the enforcement of sentences should take place outside the territory of the former Yugoslavia continues to be maintained. Yet, although this position may have been considered justified in 1993 when the former Yugoslavia was riven by war and experienced grave breaches of international humanitarian law, it is clear that it has lost its logic and justification nowadays.
Serbia’s request, Mr. President, is motivated by the following considerations:
The treatment of convicted persons varies from country to country and depends on concrete conditions of imprisonment. The difference, however, is not rooted in Trial Chamber decisions. The relevant United Nations organs would be hard pressed to provide proper answers as to why two persons sentenced to equal-term imprisonment, for instance, are serving their sentences under different conditions and to explain the reasons behind the inconsistency;
In some cases, the convicted persons, most often politicians, army generals and other Government officials are accorded no special treatment reflective of the specific nature of their previous responsibilities;
Many of these persons serve their sentences in the penitentiaries that are thousands of kilometers away from their country and their society; they do not understand the language or the culture of the prison community; and, as stated in the reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, many of them do not receive regular visits from their families. It makes them double isolated: from the outside society and from prison inmates;
These persons often mistrust treatment/therapy recommendations because they do not understand the language; and
No organized legal aid conformant with the specific international judicial procedure in which these persons have been convicted is provided.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia is ready to take the responsibility for the enforcement of sentences passed by the ICTY, to accept international monitoring and provide guarantees that no early release will be allowed without prior decisions of the MICT. My Government will raise this issue in the Security Council at its December meeting on the ICTY completion strategy.
In conclusion, let me point out that Serbia has achieved significant results in the domestic prosecution of the grave breaches of international humanitarian law perpetrated during the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The proceedings in these cases are conducted without discrimination based either on the national, ethnic or religious origin of the perpetrator or the victim. We must not be deterred in our efforts to bring about reconciliation and cooperation and that includes through trying those responsible for crimes in domestic courts. The victims deserve justice. Mr. President, Serbia will continue its cooperation with both the ICTY and MICT.
Thank you, Mr. President.