European Union is more concerned with Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY than with its universal jurisdiction law.
Officials from the European Commission are not inclined to support Croatia in blocking Serbia in opening Chapter 23 in its negotiations with the EU until the Belgrade authorities withdraw controversial provisions of the law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes which turn Belgrade into a “mini-Hague”, reports Večernji List on March 30, 2016.
“Our experts have analyzed the law and there is nothing which tells us we should be concerned”, says a senior source from the European Commission, adding that nothing has changed in relation to the time when Croatian members of the European Parliament first tried to convince the EU to make the repeal of the disputed law into a condition to open the Chapter. At that time, one of the directors in the Commission’s Enlargement Directorate openly said that the Commission did not support the Croatian proposal.
Still, the new Croatian government has announced that it intends to block the opening of Chapter 23 as long as Serbia does not fulfill several conditions, including the abolition of the controversial law. “The conditions which Serbia must meet to open such an important chapter are, among others, respect for human rights (in particular minority rights), full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and judicial reform which includes the abolition of the jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes in the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia”, announced the Ministry.
Croatia is at the moment the only one of the 28 EU member states that has not yet given its consent to the opening of Chapter 23, which was confirmed by Serbia’s chief negotiator Jadranka Joksimović. Serbia hopes to open the chapter by the end of June.
The European Commission claims that the EU acquis is silent on universal jurisdiction for war crimes and that the Serbian law is similar to the laws which exist in several EU member states. Croatian counterargument is that this is a law which is unique by its “hybrid” universal jurisdiction. The Commission informally says that to them it is important that the chief Hague prosecutor does not have any objections to the law.
Although Commission’s opinion is not critical since the decision is made by 28 member states in the Council of the European Union, it still affects the attitude of the member states, and so far no other country has publicly sided with the Croatian request. “I am convinced that we will find like-minded people in Slovenia because this Serbian law, in theory, could be applied to them. And we need to explain to other countries what is it that Croatia objects to in this law”, says Orsat Miljenić, Justice Minister in the previous government, who during his term was the first to announce that Croatia would demand that Serbia abolishes its self-proclaimed jurisdiction for war crimes in the entire territory of former Yugoslavia.
However, although the Commission indicated that it does not share Croatian view about the law, the two other conditions specified by the Croatian Foreign Ministry are conditions which are important to the Commission, in particular, Serbia’s full cooperation with the ICTY, which has not been stellar in recent weeks and months.