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STATEMENT BY MR. SASA OBRADOVIC, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GOVERMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA AT THE G A PLENARY DEBATE ON I C T Y

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Mr. President,

 

Distinguished Members of the General Assembly,

 

I am very privileged and honoured to speak to you as the representative of the Republic of Serbia today.

 

Before I proceed, I would like to welcome Judge Theodor Meron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and Judge Vagn Joensen, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and thank them for their annual reports.

 

Mr. President,

 

As an EU candidate country, Serbia aligns itself with the statement of the European Union. As it has very high stakes in the ICTY proceedings, however, I feel duty-bound to add a few observations on Serbia’s behalf in my capacity of its representative to this august body.

 

Serbia remains firmly committed to the principles and system of international criminal justice and its essential role in fighting impunity. It has followed the ICTY activities with great attention and interest, especially those concerning the completion of its long-lasted trials. However, Mr. President, it has had its grave concern borne out once again by the failure to determine the date of the rendering of the trial judgment in the Šešelj case.

 

The accused Vojislav Šešelj, distinguished delegates, is a citizen of my country; he is the leader of an opposition party, with significant right-wing leanings in domestic and regional politics. Charged with serious allegations for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the events that took place at the beginning of the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, he was never sentenced. Waiting for the completion of the first-instance proceedings for more than twelve years, he spent eleven years and eight months in the United Nations detention. Even the Trial Chamber raised concern in his case as it said that the “very long provisional detention […], as time went on, became more and more irreconcilable with the presumption of innocence and the guaranties of fair trial”.[1] By the Order of 6 November 2014, issued on humanitarian grounds, the accused was provisionally released and transferred to Serbia, where he is receiving a therapy for a life-threatening decease. His case is an example of the failure of the international criminal judiciary to fulfil its highest purposes and ambitions.

 

Meanwhile, Serbia continues to be firmly committed to the cooperation with the Tribunal and has done its best to fulfil its international obligations. The satisfaction of the Office of the Prosecutor with the level of cooperation with Serbia has been expressed in the Report and, for its part, Serbia continues to give full support to the efforts being made by the President, Judges, Office of the Prosecutor and the Registry, aimed at completing the activities of this international body and its transition to the Mechanism. We trust and believe that the transitional process can be carried out without decrease in the procedural rights, either of the accused persons or the victims.

 

At the domestic plan, I am glad to inform the General Assembly that the Serbian judiciary continues to investigate, prosecute and try the persons suspected of committing the worst atrocities of the 1990s. The Draft National Strategy on war crimes issues will be published at the end of this year. That document will contain a roadmap of further activities and improvements needed in this field, both with regard to domestic trials and regional cooperation. The Government of the Republic of Serbia firmly believes that the domestic prosecution of core international crimes committed in the armed conflicts of the 1990s is one of the most important steps in the process of reconciliation, as well as for the development of good neighbourly relations and the lasting peace in the region of the former Yugoslavia. Also, efficient prosecution of war crimes is a precondition for a full democratization of the society through the affirmation of the rule of law and the respect of the principles of humanitarian law, the cherished achievements of modern humankind. It is a joint duty for all countries of our region to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for the most serious crimes, including those committed in Srebrenica, Sarajevo, Vukovar, Knin and Kosovo and Metohija or anywhere else in the former Yugoslavia. Those proceedings must be conducted without any discrimination on the basis of the national, ethnic or religious origin of the perpetrator or the victim alike.

 

However, Serbia is not satisfied with the manner in which this goal is being achieved. On the international level, we noted that in almost all major ICTY cases in which the victims had been groups or individuals of Serb ethnicity, the accused were acquitted. We then were led, and inclined, to believe that remedies for such misbalances could be found in proceedings before national courts. Yet, Mr. President, this has not been the case. Although, for instance, both the ICTY and the International Court of Justice have recognized that the civilian population of Serb ethnic origin was exposed to random murders during and after Croatia’s military operation Storm in 1995, only one person in that country has been finally convicted for the war crime of murder so far. Nonetheless, the Report readily assesses the trials in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but none in Croatia. At the same time, Croatia denies the jurisdiction of the Serbian judicial bodies to prosecute war crimes committed in the territory of another country. What is it then if not an attempt to establish impunity for its citizens? The similar selective approach becomes ever more visible in Bosnia and Herzegovina, too, while the failure to prosecute Kosovo Albanians for war crimes has been clearly recognized by the establishment of a new internationalized judicial mechanism to try such cases.

 

Mr. President,

 

By its cooperation with the ICTY in the last fifteen years, Serbia has made a significant contribution to the system of international criminal justice. Yet, we did not expect that justice would remain selective. Serbia fully supports that part of the ICTY report in which the States are called upon to improve regional cooperation in this field. Moreover, we believe that, in the interest of international justice, a mechanism is needed for strict and constant international monitoring of that cooperation. My country has nothing to hide and we expect other governments to take the same approach.

 

Another open question for Serbia in this process is the overall humanitarian status of its citizens convicted by the ICTY who serve sentences in various countries under different regimes and treatment programmes. While international criminal law has been highly developed by the ICTY case law, it is true that international penology does not exist today as such.  It must be noted that the United Nations did almost nothing in this field. The first results of the research conducted in regard of this question show that the convicted persons, most often politicians, army generals and other government officials, have not been accorded any special treatment reflective of the specific nature of their responsibility. Many of them 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, do not receive regular visits by their families. It makes them double isolated: from the outside society and from prison inmates. Frequently, they even protest the medical treatments they received, most often because of the misunderstanding of the medical standards of the new society. They do not have legal aid conformant with the specific international judicial procedure in which they have been convicted. For that reason, Serbia requested in 2009 to sign the agreement on the enforcement of ICTY sentences in order to be added to the list of countries in which the sentences are enforced. But, even though my country is a party to such an agreement reached within the International Criminal Court, its request to the United Nations with respect to the same matter has never been properly attended. The failure to address these questions and provide a response to the request, Mr. President, has had a negative effect on the general attitude of the Serbian society towards the ICTY, its work and its legacy.  

 

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

 

 

 

[1] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Šešelj, IT-03-67-T, Interlocutory Decision of 10 April 2015, p. 2, para. 2.