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SECURITY COUNCIL - STATEMENT BY MR. SASA OBRADOVIC, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA,9 DECEMBER 2015

Wednesday, 09 December 2015

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

It is my great privilege and distinct honour to speak to you as the representative of the Republic of Serbia today.

Before I proceed to make my statement, allow me to welcome Judge Carmel Agius, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and congratulate him on the assumption of this important office; he can always count on Serbia’s cooperation and support. I also welcome Judge Theodor Meron, President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and Judge Vagn Joensen, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and thank them for their semi-annual reports. My welcome is extended to two distinguished Prosecutors, Mr. Serge Brammertz and Mr. Hassan Jallow, too. Aware of their intense and informed scrutiny, I shall undertake to discuss my country’s contribution to the completion strategy of the ICTY here today.

Mr. President,

Serbia remains firmly committed to the principles and system of international criminal justice and their role in fighting impunity. Its cooperation with the Tribunal continues faithfully, in particular in the cases of Goran Hadžič and Vojislav Šešelj who are on provisional release. The ICTY Prosecutor expressed, in his written Report, his satisfaction with that cooperation, especially in processing the requests for assistance of his Office, as well as in maintaining direct dialogue with my country’s governmental and judicial authorities (See Prosecutor’s Report, Annex II, paragraphs 21&22).

My Government follows the ICTY activities with great attention and interest, particularly those concerning the completion of its long-lasted trials of Serbian citizens. In this regard, let me remind the distinguished Council that, on 23 February 2016, the Šešelj case, still in the first-instance phase, will enter its 14th year. Notwithstanding the anomaly, Serbia continues to be fully supportive of the ICTY’s commitment, spelled out again in the Report, to completing the trials expeditiously, while ensuring that all judicial proceedings are conducted in a manner consistent with the fundamental principles of due process and fairness. In this context, my country supports the new President and his intention to implement measures to expedite the work of the Tribunal and calls, at the same time, on the Security Council to accord its attention to the completion strategy of the two ad hoc Tribunals, in particular to the measures proposed by President Meron in his Report regarding the staff attrition (See Paragraphs 8 & 9).

War crimes proceedings in Serbia, Mr. President, are continued and go in parallel with the ICTY completion strategy. A National Strategy on War Crimes Issues is being drafted and, charged with the responsible task of chairing a working group established by the Ministry of Justice to draft that document I expect it to be published soon. It will include a roadmap of activities and improvements needed to investigate, prosecute and try heinous crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s; measures to improve protection of witnesses and support victims during criminal proceedings; some general improvements in the defence of the accused; cooperation with, and support to national, regional and international commissions on missing persons; and measures to advance regional cooperation in processing war crimes. The National Strategy will also contain the positions and measures designed to improve the overall social milieu in relation to war crimes, their investigation and prosecution. The key challenges identified in the reports of the ICTY, OSCE and other relevant stakeholders have been taken into account, while due respect is paid to the domestic legal system and the independence of the judiciary. The Government of the Republic of Serbia firmly believes that domestic prosecution of the core international crimes committed in the armed conflicts of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia is one of the most important steps in the process of reconciliation. It is a collective duty of the countries of the region to investigate and prosecute those responsible, without any discrimination against the perpetrator or the victim on the basis of the national, ethnic or religious origin. Justice must not be allowed to be hobbled by selectivity.

With that in mind, I would like to remind the distinguished members of the Security Council of my statement made at the Council’s meeting last June in which I said that, notwithstanding the recognition by both the ICTY and the International Court of Justice that the Croatian government forces killed many civilians of Serb ethnicity in Operation Storm in 1995, the judiciary in Croatia has passed only one final conviction for the commission of the war crime of murder. And although the re-visiting of ultimate tragedies that befall innocent people is a painful and sad exercise and there is nothing to like about it, I still would like to hear from the representative of the Croatian Government what is being done to bring justice to the Serbs many of whom were gunned down at the threshold of their house doors or strafed from the air in helpless refugee columns as they fled their ancestral homes during and after the Operation.  

  The Government of my country expects that the monitoring by the ICTY Prosecutor, or the Prosecutor of the Mechanism in the future, of the domestic prosecution of war crimes will be expanded to include the Croatian judiciary as well. For, the Report in front of you, distinguished Members of the Security Council, carries only the monitoring observations of the domestic trials of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. None of the trials in Croatia.  

Yet, the Government of Serbia is obliged to Mr. Brammertz and his hard-working team for constant support and advice to the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor. The provision of information and evidence in ICTY cases is a commendable example of two-way cooperation; it benefits both the fight against impunity domestically and the completion strategy of the Tribunal. This process has to be intensified by the Serbian side, all the more so in view of the statement in paragraph 39 of the Report of the ICTY Prosecutor (See Annex II) that Serbian judicial authorities, inter alia, must process war crimes cases that do not exclusively involve Serbian nationals suspected of committing crimes against nationals of other States. This statement, as my Government understands it, is supportive of the existing scope of jurisdiction of the Serbian judiciary which, unfortunately, was recently impugned in the European Parliament.

My Government also welcomes the Training Project of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for national prosecutors and young professionals supported by the European Union, as well as the workshop organized by the OTP of the Mechanism.

Last, but not least, Serbia thanks the ICTY Prosecutor for the efforts invested in improving regional cooperation on war crimes matters and welcomes his intention to closely monitor further developments. That is also my country’s request. In the Đukić case, the Serbian competent authorities will respond properly to the request of Bosnia and Herzegovina, received recently, for the enforcement of the sentence in Serbia in accordance with a bilateral agreement (See Prosecutor’s Report, Annex II, paragraph 32).  

Also, Mr. President, let me reiterate the interest of my country in the future dialogue on questions related to the ICTY archives and reaffirm its previous humanitarian request with respect to the enforcement of sentences and the possibility that convicted persons serve their sentences in Serbia as well.

And before I conclude my statement, Mr. President, let me make two very pertinent remarks.

Twenty years ago almost to a day, a Peace Agreement was signed in Dayton, Ohio. It put an end to the armed conflicts and horrific atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The three Presidents who signed the Agreement, Alija Izetbegović, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman, were subjected to ICTY investigations soon after.  Only one of them, Slobodan Milošević, was indicted. The other two died before those who had suffered because of the acts for which they were investigated could never be given satisfaction of having them indicted and arraigned.

And twenty years later, my country is hard at work developing good neighbourly relations and establishing lasting peace in the region once ripped by suffering and war. This year, my Prime Minister visited Srebrenica on two occasions in an effort to bring reconciliation and offer cooperation to the community that had suffered the calamity that only inter-ethnic and inter-religious wars can provoke. 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 will not be forgotten and the crimes must not be allowed to repeat.  

Thank you, Mr. President.