|Yugoslav Leaders "Stonewall" Tribunal on Archives Access|
|(New York, May 20, 2002) Belgrade authorities must give the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia access to government archives, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch sent a letter urging Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic to turn over files to the war crimes tribunal as Yugoslav leaders visited Washington, D.C. to press for aid money.
Svilanovic, together with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, is visiting Washington to encourage the U.S. government to resume aid to Yugoslavia, cut off since March 31 over Belgrade's failure to cooperate with the Hague court. Human Rights Watch said that Yugoslavia's ongoing failure to grant access to the archives and files essential to ICTY prosecutions made resumption of U.S. economic assistance premature. Svilanovic and Djindjic are scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on May 21.
"While we welcome the voluntary surrenders of recent high-level indictees, the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities have stonewalled access to the official archives necessary for full and fair adjudication," said Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "From the dock in The Hague Slobodan Milosevic has had greater access to security files than the Tribunal. This has to change before U.S. aid starts to flow again."
In November 2001, Congress adopted a provision that required the arrest and transfer of indictees and access to files and witnesses as preconditions for continuing aid. On March 31, U.S. economic aid to Belgrade ended because Yugoslav authorities had failed to take meaningful steps to cooperate with the ICTY as required by the U.S. law. The Bush Administration refused to certify progress in Belgrade's cooperation.
Foreign Minister Svilanovic and Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic are in Washington to make the case that enough cooperation has occurred to justify the resumption of economic assistance. They are asking U.S. officials to unfreeze the assets of Yugoslav banks held in the United States, grant Yugoslavia trade privileges and endorse the country in its negotiations with the Paris Club of creditors to whom Yugoslavia owes massive debt.
Over the 18 months that Slobodan Milosevic has been out of power the Tribunal has been given no access to the key archives. These are archives protected by the Yugoslav Army; the Yugoslav Ministry of the Interior; the Serbian Ministry of Interior, including the State Security; the Yugoslav Presidency; the Yugoslav Cabinet; the Yugoslav Defense Ministry; the Serbian Presidency; and the Serbian Cabinet.
Human Rights Watch said tribunal investigators need information about the way the Yugoslav and Serbian government archives are organized, as well as access. "These are massive archives and mere access would leave the investigators looking for a needle in a haystack," Andersen explained. "The Bush administration has been pressing the ICTY to complete its investigations and trials in a timely and efficient manner. To do so, the investigators need a roadmap to the files and help finding the relevant documents."
In April, Yugoslavia enacted a law authorizing cooperation with the ICTY. Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic heads a newly established National Council on Cooperation with the ICTY mandated to oversee and facilitate cooperation. In the few weeks since the enactment of the law several high level former officials have voluntarily surrendered to the authority of the Tribunal.
Nonetheless, Radovan Karadzic, former President of the Bosnian Serb Republic and Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb military, two senior ICTY indictees, remain at liberty. Mladic is believed to be in Yugoslavia, while Karadzic has been reportedly in hiding in Bosnia.
In recent letters to Yugoslav President Kostunica and Prime Minister Djindjic, Human Rights Watch has argued that their governments must cooperate with the Tribunal on access to documents as well as the arrest and transfer of indictees in order to distance themselves from the Milosevic legacy and build a new future in Europe.