Global Policy Forum

UN War Court Transfers First Case to Serbia


By Beti Bilandzic

October 1, 2004

The U.N. war crimes prosecutor sent the first case to the Serbian judiciary Friday in a move that could warm ties between the Hague-based court and Belgrade. The decision, announced in Belgrade by chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, came as the West piled pressure on Serbia to extradite war crimes indictees or face isolation. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has been reluctant to hand over the wanted Serbs, including four police and army generals, and for long argued the trials should be held at home.

Del Ponte did not say what the transferred case was except that it was "important," adding it was a sign of good cooperation with the country's judiciary. "I must say that with the judicial authorities we have no problem. I would be happy if I would have no problems next Monday when I come to meet with the political authorities." she told reporters in Belgrade's special war crimes court.

Belgrade authorities, including pro-western President Boris Tadic, have repeatedly said they recognized full cooperation with the tribunal was a must but no indictees have been transferred to The Hague since last year. Serbia's special court was set up last year to show the country was ready to deal with the past. The U.N. court has already helped it with documents and witnesses for the case of the notorious 1991 Vukovar massacre.

But Del Ponte insists on having higher-level indictees brought to account in her court and said the four generals had to be tried in The Hague, hoping to see them there soon. The court plans to complete investigations by the end of 2004, end trials by 2008 and close down before the end of 2010.

Speaking earlier at a conference on "Dealing with the past in ex-Yugoslavia" del Ponte said local courts in the countries that emerged from the bloody break-up of the state should be prepared to prosecute cases the tribunal could not deal with. Del Ponte, who has visited Serbia several times in pursuit of alleged war criminals will discuss compliance with the court, handover of indictees and other sensitive issues with the authorities during her official part of the visit Monday. Serbia's access to foreign loans and hopes of joining the European Union are contingent on helping Del Ponte net the Hague's two most-wanted fugitives, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his army commander General Ratko Mladic.

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