AIM: start

SAT, 20 OCT 2001 21:59:28 GMT

RS Finally Passes Bill on Cooperation with ICTY

AIM Banja Luka, October 4, 2001

The People's Assembly of Republika Srpska at its latest session passed a bill on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It remains unclear, however, whether this signifies that this entity is truly ready to assist the Hague court in prosecuting war crimes suspects or paying only lip service to the international community.

This dilemma arose from the fact that the passage of the bill, scheduled for the first September session of the RS Assembly, had been postponed twice. Explanations that the bill could not be included in the agenda because it was already full and that top RS officials were unable to attend, arose the suspicion of opposition circles, as well as of representatives of foreign and domestic non-government organizations, that RS was buying time to create a consensus on the bill within the ruling coalition so that it could be passed.

This was further confirmed by the fact that the bill was passed with only 42 votes in favor, cast by MPs from the Socialist Party, as well as those from the Serb Democratic Party and the Party of Democratic Progress, all members of the ruling bloc. Five representatives of the Serb Democratic Party could in no way be persuaded to vote for the bill.

In a debate that preceded voting on the bill, the Serb Democrats offered 19 amendments. Although they appeared to be technical objections, three amendments questioned the very essence of the cooperation bill. In addition to proposing that local courts have supremacy over the ICTY, the government was asked that all individuals, groups or units attempting to arrest war crimes suspects and not in the employ of the RS Interior Ministry be declared terrorist. The government rejected the amendments, as well as a proposal that war crimes suspects be handed over to the international court only after being convicted of war crimes by local courts, "in a just and independent trial."

As previously announced, the Serb opposition parties abstained both from the debate and from voting. Instead, representatives of the Party of Independent Social Democrats, Serb People's Alliance and the Democratic Socialist Party tackled the bill's political background. "Instead of carrying out its executive tasks, the government is offering us a bill that is supposed to serve it as a public excuse that it will hide behind," said Independent Social Democrats representative Krstan Simic. According to him, the Serb Democratic Party would a year ago have denounced the very debating of such a bill as treachery, and now it is described as a patriotic act. As opposed to them, MPs from the Party of Democratic Action, Party of Democratic Prosperity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the New Croatian Initiative voted against the bill.

"RS does not need a cooperation bill to fulfill its obligations to the Hague court; everything is specified by the Dayton agreement," said Sulejman Tihic, the deputy speaker of the RS Assembly and a representative of the Party of Democratic Action. Tihic says that the bill "can openly be labelled as obstructing cooperation with the ICTY." "Obstruction is quite clear in Articles 6 and 12 of the bill," Tihic said and explained that Article 6 stipulates that in the event cooperation is against RS interests, there will be no cooperation, which contradicts the very essence of the bill. The same is the case with Article 12, which envisages criminal prosecution even in the event the ICTY prosecutor decides not to press charges, rejects the charges, or declares that his office does not have jurisdiction in a particular case. This, according to Tihic, is contrary to international legal norms.

RS Premier Mladen Ivanic, despite the problems with scraping together enough votes to pass the bill, did not hide his satisfaction that the job was done. "I think that the Assembly has demonstrated its maturity, because it debated the bill in a normal atmosphere. What I said would happen has happened: the bill was passed." Ivanic stressed he expected "RS's motions to the ICTY will now have better treatment."

Although this statement appears unclear at a first glance, it, in fact, means that RS adopted the bill so that in the upcoming period an equal number of Bosniaks and Croats, charged with committing war crimes against Serbs during the war in Bosnia, would join the 30 Serbs currently held at the Scheveningen detention unit. Asked what measures the RS Justice Ministry would take against 27 persons from RS wanted for war crimes by the Hague court once the law on cooperation with the ICTY goes into effect, Ivanic said that "these issues will be debated by RS institutions, which will subsequently advise the public of their plans."

Representatives of these "RS institutions," and according to the bill the Justice and Interior Ministries are in charge of arresting and extraditing war crimes suspects, decided not to comment on the matter. RS President Mirko Sarovic was equally unwilling to elaborate. "The bill was passed, and now it has to be accepted by those who did not want to vote for it," Sarovic said.

ICTY representatives showed complete indifference about the bill's passage. In his comment, ICTY spokesman Jim Landale said: "Now that they have passed a bill they did not need, the RS authorities should immediately arrest 33 war crimes suspects who are still at large."

Gordana Katana