In his address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Serge Brammertz, called on the Serbian authorities to show more commitment to prosecuting crimes committed during the 1990s wars.
“The accountability process in Serbia is at a critical crossroads. Further progress requires strong political commitment,” Brammertz said.
“In this regard, the fact that last week senior government ministers escorted and welcomed a convicted war criminal, General Vladimir Lazarevic, back to Serbia upon his release sends absolutely the wrong signal,” he added.
Top officials and hundreds of people carrying banners with slogans like “Welcome, general” and chanting “Lazarevic, our hero” greeted the freed war crimes convict after he was flown from the UN detention centre in The Hague to the Serbian town of Nis on December 3.
The Serbian government sent its own plane and its defence and justice ministers, Bratislav Gasic and Nikola Selakovic, to accompany Lazarevic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav Army’s Pristina Corps, who was granted early release after serving two-thirds of his 14-year prison sentence.
Lazarevic was also welcomed at the airport by Serbian labour minister Aleksandar Vulin, the head of Serbian army Ljubisa Dikovic, Serbian Orthodox bishop Teodosije and the mayor of Nis, Zoran Perisic.
Gasic and Selakovic and were the first Serbian ministers to ever accompany a convict home after release by the Hague Tribunal.
According to the verdict, Lazarevic aided and abetted the deportation of Albanians from Kosovo and committed other inhumane acts by providing practical assistance to members of the Yugoslav Army.
As a result, some 11,000, Kosovo Albanians were killed and some 700,000 expelled to neighboring Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Commenting on the progress of the other countries in the region when it comes to war crimes prosecutions, Brammertz said that while “progress that has been made, it is clear that throughout the former Yugoslavia, more accountability can and should be achieved”.
“In addition, Croatian authorities last week began exhumations of a mass grave believed to contain the remains of Croatian Serbs killed during Operation Storm. The Croatian judiciary now has the important opportunity to visibly demonstrate that the accountability process continues in an independent and impartial manner,” Brammertz said.
Commenting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said there had been progress in national war crimes prosecutions, but warned it was “uneven and fragile”.
“The targets established in [Bosnia’s] National War Crimes Strategy will not be met by a significant margin,” Brammetz said.
Bosnia’s state strategy on war crimes prosecutions, adopted in 2008, stated that the most complex cases should be completed by the start of 2016 and the rest over another eight years.
“In addition, cooperation between prosecutors’ offices at the state, entity, district and cantonal levels remains problematic, and there is general consensus that the justice sector is not yet meeting the public’s expectations,” he added.
The Hague Tribunal’s president, judge Carmel Agius, also updated the UN Security Council members about its progress as it wraps up its final cases.
According to Agius, the court is expected to deliver first-instance verdicts in cases against former Bosnian Serb President Srpska Radovan Karadzic and Serbian Radical Party leaser Vojislav Seselj before the end of March 2016.
Despite the fact that many cases are have been delayed, Agius said that the “tribunal is to meet its ultimate goal of closure in 2017”.