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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 12:21 GMT
Serbia squeezed over war crimes
By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-East Europe analyst

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has promised "results soon", after being criticised for failing to hand over war crimes suspects to The Hague Tribunal.

But what impact is the criticism likely to have for Serbia and the other former Yugoslav republics?

Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic's freedom casts a shadow over Serbia

The Hague Tribunal is under pressure.

As a body established by the UN, it is bound by the UN's decisions.

This includes the Security Council's so-called completion strategy, which envisages the tribunal finishing its trials in 2008 - and appeals against the judgements two years later.

But that schedule is threatened by three obstacles.

First, the continued failure to apprehend indictees, 20 of whom remain at liberty.

Second, doubts about the readiness of some local judicial institutions in the former Yugoslav republics to take over cases from The Hague.

Finally, by the tribunal's own financial problems, due to arrears in payments from UN member states, which have led to a recruitment freeze.

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte was adamant that the fugitives should be arrested; first and foremost, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic.

"2005 will... mark the 10th anniversary of three key events: the Srebrenica genocide, the Dayton agreement and the indictment against Karadzic and Mladic," she said.

"If the international community could not prevent the genocide, it should at least not allow this and other most serious crimes to be left unpunished."

'Tipped off'

Carla Del Ponte's main target was Serbia - and more specifically Mr Kostunica's government, which she said had "deliberately chosen to ignore its legal obligations".

She said at least 12 of the fugitives from justice are in Serbia, several of them living openly.

Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte wants more suspects arrested
And she cited the case of the former Serb separatist leader from Croatia, Goran Hadzic, who she claimed was tipped off by the Serb authorities in July - after they had received his indictment from the tribunal - thereby allowing him to escape.

Prime Minister Kostunica has been reluctant to order any arrests.

He is concerned that the apprehension of some of the accused, who are regarded by many Serbs as national heroes, could destabilise his minority government or perhaps Serbia itself.

Mr Kostunica's current attitude is in stark contrast with his earlier strictly constitutionalist approach when he was President of Yugoslavia.

At that time he opposed the transfer of indictees to The Hague on the grounds that there was no law allowing for that.

Now, though, with the required legislation in place, he has adopted a form of realpolitik - in effect, turning his back on Serbia's legal obligations.

But what may be a pragmatic approach at home, has already produced serious drawbacks abroad.

The US froze aid for Serbia in the spring, due to Belgrade's lack of co-operation with the tribunal.

And the EU is continuing to insist that progress towards negotiating a "stabilisation and association agreement" with Belgrade - the first step towards eventual EU membership - will depend on Serbia's compliance with the tribunal's requests.

Sanctions unlikely

Awareness of this has prompted both Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, and the Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic, to call for the arrests and transfers of war crimes suspects.

Although the UN Security Council is unlikely to impose sanctions on Belgrade - as it did during the rule of the former President, Slobodan Milosevic - the continuing US and EU restrictions on Serbia will act as a form of pressure on Mr Kostunica's government.

Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague

In the meantime, though, international pressure may be felt more directly in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina - even though both states have shown a much higher degree of co-operation with the tribunal.

In the case of Bosnia, though, one of the country's two entities - the Serb Republic - has yet to make a single arrest of individuals indicted by The Hague.

That has already contributed to delaying Bosnia's efforts to forge closer links with Nato and the EU.

And it may now prompt the international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown to take further measures against those whom he believes to be holding back Bosnia's international integration. That could mean sacking officials and reforming institutions.

Croatia has received a virtually clean bill of health from Carla Del Ponte. But there remains one major obstacle: the continued lack of progress in locating and arresting General Ante Gotovina who was allowed to escape by Zagreb officials after they received his indictment three years ago.

The Gotovina case is highly sensitive for the Croatian government, which argues that the fugitive is not hiding in Croatia.

Lack of progress over Mr Gotovina could delay the start of accession talks with the EU which Zagreb would like to see launched early next year.

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