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Helsinki Commission Members Press Belgrade to Apprend Indicted War Criminals, Cooperate with Hague Tribunal
Monday, July 07, 2003

By Bob Hand
CSCE Staff Advisor

 

On June 16, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Serbia and Montenegro met U.S. criteria set forth in section 578 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution. These criteria include Serbia and Montenegro’s level of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Without certification, certain bilateral assistance to Serbia would have been withheld.

Leading Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have long been concerned with the level of cooperation by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with ICTY and have consistently urged the authorities in Belgrade to do more. Concerned Commissioners have sought to increase attention paid to developments in Serbia in the aftermath of the March assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. There is a general sense among Commission leaders that while Belgrade’s cooperation with the Tribunal has been improving, it still remains insufficient.

In the lead up to the June 15th certification deadline, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) participated in a Commission public briefing featuring Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal. As of the May 15th briefing, Del Ponte characterized cooperation from Belgrade as uncertain, underscoring that movement comes only when it is seen as politically beneficial for the Serbian Government. She noted some cooperation in accessing documents; however, for more than a year, the prosecution has pushed for the transfer of 155 Serbian documents in connection with the Milosevic trial without success.

Del Ponte expressed concern over the failure to detain wanted fugitives – particularly Veselin Sljivancanin, indicted for the 1991 Vukovar massacre in Croatia, and Ratko Mladic and five others wanted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Mladic is a great mystery because we know where Mladic is,” she asserted. “We passed this information to the Serbian Government in Belgrade, and nothing happened.”

Del Ponte stressed that if law and order is to prevail criminal justice must be credible. Failure to bring together all those accused to trial frustrates the progress of the Tribunal and forces the witnesses to present repeatedly their own horrific accounts each time a separate case is brought to trial. She also assessed cooperation with Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo during the course of the briefing.

In a letter dated May 23, five Members of the Helsinki Commission urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to utilize the time prior to the certification deadline to press authorities in Belgrade to take the steps necessary to meet the certification requirements. The Commissioners recognized the significant strides Serbia has made in cooperation with the Tribunal, but underscored that “a failure to apprehend Mladic and other notorious war criminals soon would be a serious setback to the cause of reform and recovery at home and further delay Serbia’s integration in Europe.” The letter was signed by Co-Chairmen Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Commissioners Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).

The United States Helsinki Commission held a second briefing on June 4, detailing Serbia and Montenegro’s cooperation with the Tribunal, and the prospects for human rights and democratic development in Serbia since the lifting of the state of emergency imposed after Djindjic’s assassination.

Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch opened the briefing, welcoming the tough measures authorities in Belgrade have taken in the wake of Mr. Djindjic’s murder to crack down on criminal elements. Nina Bang-Jensen, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Coalition for International Justice, described Serbia’s actual cooperation with the Court as “very limited, begrudging, and only under pressure.” After last year’s certification, Serbia’s government promised a consistent pattern of cooperation, but only three surrenders and one arrest have followed.

Bang-Jensen cited the failure to apprehend nineteen Bosnian Serb and Serbian indicted suspects, either living within Serbia or frequently crossing into Serbia, as an indication that the current government is inclined to protect the old regime.

Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, recommended that the United States look not only at Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY, but to its overall level of commitment to rule of law. Following Djindjic’s assassination in March, the Serbian Government imposed a state of emergency to crack down on organized crime. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people were held incommunicado for up to two months under this guise. International monitors were denied access to detainees until recently, and Andersen noted that released detainees reported widespread abuse.

Despite increasing pressure from the international community on Serbia’s domestic courts to shoulder greater responsibility for holding war criminals accountable, only four domestic trials were held this year. There is also no indication of upcoming trials or of a permanent commitment to such a process. Trials that have proceeded suffered from a lack of witness protection, poor case preparation by prosecutors, and problems facilitating witnesses traveling from other areas of the former Yugoslavia.

James Fisfis, Resident Program Officer for Serbia at the International Republican Institute, remained optimistic. Fisfis presented the results of an IRI survey suggesting that 56 percent of Serbian citizens believe the country is now on the right track, up from 38 percent before the assassination. Sixty-four percent of Serbian respondents currently support cooperation with The Hague, seeing it as a necessary measure toward gaining international acceptance. The data suggest a window of opportunity exists for pressure to reform to have an impact.

Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro to the United States, acknowledged that “more can be done and more will be done” in cooperation with the Tribunal, but focused on the progress made over the last two and half years, which he described as “remarkable.” In particular, he pointed to the recent arrests of three “pillars of Milosevic’s rule”: Miroslav Radic, Franko Simatovic, and Jovica Stanisic.

Ambassador Vujacic said that the Serbian Government was highly committed to protecting human rights. He stated that during the war “the ultimate human right, the right to life was taken from the victims in atrocities defined as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Vujacic promised that all indictees in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro will be arrested and transferred to The Hague.

A second Helsinki Commission letter to Secretary of State Powell dated June 12th, declared that certification could not be justified at the time. The letter concluded: “To certify would be detrimental to U.S. foreign policy goals supporting international justice and successful and complete democratic change in Serbia.”

The letter reiterated that the Serbian authorities had yet to arrest and transfer Mladic and other indictees who are most likely in Serbia, and even this did not define the full cooperation with the Tribunal desired. Commission Members warned that if certification occurred while the required conditions remained unmet, the United States’ ability to affect change in Serbia would be diminished, making it more difficult for Serbia’s political leadership to undertake necessary reforms.

Some Commission Members view the June 13 arrest of the indicted war crimes suspect Veselin Sljivancanin by the Belgrade authorities as an important positive step toward increased cooperation with the ICTY. However, continued failure to apprehend Mladic and other leading indictees remains a serious cause of concern that places barriers to Serbia and Montenegro’s full re-integration into the international community.

In a press release announcing certification, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher asserted that the Secretary’s decision to certify does not indicate that Serbia has fulfilled its commitment. “We have made clear ... that the United States expects further actions to be taken in order to meet those obligations,” Boucher said, “including by arresting and transferring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.”

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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    WASHINGTON—Following the detention of four Ukrainian nationals serving as members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine who reportedly were accused of illegal activities including treason and espionage, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The targeting and detention of OSCE officials by Russian-controlled forces is utterly unacceptable. Those detained must be released immediately. We will hold Russian officials responsible for any mistreatment they suffer.” On April 24, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that four Ukrainian staff members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had been detained and held “for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff.”   The SMM had served a critical function as the eyes and ears of the international community in the conflict zone since 2014, until a Russian veto forced its mandated activities to cease on April 1. Since then, Ukrainian mission members had been carrying out minimum necessary administrative tasks focused on efforts to ensure the safety and security of its mission members, assets, and premises throughout Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas.

  • Biden administration urged to ban UK lawyers who ‘enabled’ oligarchs

    A member of Congress has urged the Biden administration to place travel bans on senior British lawyers that acted for wealthy Russian clients against investigative journalists. Steve Cohen, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, has written to Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, urging him to sanction the lawyers for having “enabled malign activities of Russian oligarchs”. His letter comes as the Biden administration looks to increase its support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and tighten sanctions against those who have supported the Russian regime. Cohen wrote: “Oligarchs who hire lawyers to engage in abusive cases against journalists to silence them cannot exert malign influence in our system . . . the United States must establish deterrents for foreign enablers serving individuals who are undermining democracy.” The state department did not respond to a request for comment. Cohen singled out several lawyers he believed should be subject to bans on visas for travel to the US: Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck; John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis; barrister Hugh Tomlinson; Geraldine Proudler of CMS; Keith Schilling of Schillings; and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of SR law. Each of the lawyers is well known in London legal circles, with firms like Carter-Ruck and Schillings having established strong reputations in defamation law and reputation management. Tait, Kelly, Tomlinson and Proudler all worked on recent cases against the former Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton or her publisher HarperCollins, or both. Belton and HarperCollins were sued last year by several Russian oligarchs including Roman Abramovich over her book Putin’s People, which details the rise to power of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The lawsuits were later settled or withdrawn. Cohen cited Schillings’ work for Malaysian businessman and fugitive Jho Low. British ministers have expressed concern over the way in which UK courts are used by wealthy foreigners to launch libel cases. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, last month set out proposals to limit any so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Also in March Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, used parliamentary privilege to claim “amoral” City lawyers were teaming up with “Putin’s henchmen” to offer “legalised intimidation”. A spokesperson for Tomlinson said: “Regulatory rules for lawyers are very strict and work to ensure equal entitlement to independent legal advice. Mr Tomlinson acted properly and in accordance with those rules throughout and has never acted as Mr Cohen suggests.” Tait’s firm Carter-Ruck said: “The claims made against Carter-Ruck are misconceived and are rejected entirely. In addition to other matters, we are not working for any Russian individuals, companies or entities seeking to challenge, overturn, frustrate or minimise sanctions.” It added: “We are not acting for, and will not be acting for, any individual, company or entity associated with the Putin regime in any matter or context, whether sanctions-related or otherwise, and will continue to conduct all ‘know your client’ checks in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as we have always done.” Cohen cited Rechtschaffen for his representation of Israeli-British businessman Walter Soriano, who he alleged was an “enabler” of certain oligarchs including Abramovich. Rechtschaffen said: “Walter Soriano is not an enabler of any oligarch . . . The English courts have said that the claim against Mr Stedman is not abusive.” Harbottle & Lewis said the firm had “acted at all time in accordance with its professional and legal obligations, and takes these matters very seriously”. Schillings said the firm did not act for any sanctioned entities and could not comment on client matters. It added that Cohen’s allegations were “wholly misplaced” and “misinformed”. It said the firm had upheld “the highest traditions of the legal profession”. Proudler’s firm CMS said it rejected Cohen’s allegations, adding that Proudler and the firm had been “compliant with all professional regulations”. “As we have said since the invasion of Ukraine, CMS is no longer accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government.”

  • Helsinki Commission Urges U.S. Administration to Consider Sanctioning Remaining Individuals Involved in Persecution of Sergei Magnitsky

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today released a letter sent April 15 to President Biden urging the U.S. administration to consider sanctioning the remaining individuals involved in the persecution of Sergei Magnitsky, the fraud he uncovered, and the coverup of his death in 2009. The letter read in part: “The passage and enforcement of the Magnitsky Act was among the rare times in the last decade that the United States rightly put universal values first in its relationship with Russia. Sergei Magnitsky courageously stood up to the Putin regime’s corruption and represents what Russia might be one day. He has served as an inspiration for Russian activists and civil society who dream of a Russia that respects human rights and complies with its own freely undertaken international commitments… “At this time of great upheaval, it could not be more important that the United States demonstrate its commitment to universal values. Sanctioning these individuals responsible for dismantling the rule of law in Russia and killing one of Russia’s bravest whistleblowers would have this effect.” Included with the letter was a list that includes the names and identifying information of 255 individuals who have not yet been sanctioned for their apparent role in Sergei Magnitsky’s death and the $230 million tax fraud he exposed. The list was compiled by Hermitage Capital Management LLC, the firm where Sergei Magnitsky worked at the time of his arrest and murder.   The full letter and list are available online. 

  • Helsinki Commission Calls on Russia to Release 'True Patriot' Kara-Murza

    A U.S. human rights monitor is calling for the release of journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian opposition figure who has spoken out against what he has called his government's crackdown on dissent. The U.S. Helsinki Commission on Monday raised alarm over the detention of Kara-Murza in Moscow a month after he outlined the Kremlin's increased use of propaganda and censorship. His arrest is the latest report of authorities attempting to silence critics since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February. "We are alarmed to learn that Vladimir Kara-Murza has been detained in Moscow. Vladimir is not a criminal but a true patriot motivated by the potential of a democratic future for Russia and freedom for its people," the commission said in a statement. "He must be allowed access to his lawyer and should be released immediately." The commission, a U.S. government agency comprised of members of Congress and representatives from federal agencies, heard testimony from Kara-Murza who described how the Russian government has used disinformation and the growing struggles of independent media outlets. The Russian government in March enacted new restrictions, criminalizing media from using the word "invasion" to describe the conflict in Ukraine. Those who violate them could face up to 15 years in prison. Speaking before the commission, Kara-Murza said that following the invasion, Putin moved swiftly against "what remained of independent media in Russia." Kara-Murza said that within days, authorities shuttered independent outlets, including Echo of Moscow, a radio station where he hosted a weekly program. He also pointed to how the Russian government has blocked access to social media networks. Other news outlets, such as highly respected Novaya Gazeta, ceased publication because of censorship, he said. Calling many Russians "brainwashed," he said many are not even aware of potential war crimes their government is alleged to have committed in Ukraine. "Today, most Russians are in an Orwellian parallel reality created by the Kremlin propaganda machine," Kara-Murza told the commission. "And I mean, Orwellian in the literal sense, what's being said on Russian state television might as well have come out of George Orwell's 1984: 'War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.'" Since Russia's new censorship laws have gone into effect, reports have emerged of students or parents turning in teachers who spoke disapprovingly of the war. Nobel Prize laureate and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, was attacked on a train. Russian authorities have also threatened Wikipedia with a nearly $50,000 fine for refusing to delete "illegal information." Kara-Murza, an author and politician who was repeatedly poisoned, has continued speaking out despite his arrest, making an appearance on MSNBC on Sunday.

  • Russia Critics Press Congress for Curbing Moscow's Role in International Groups

    Critics of Moscow pressed lawmakers to sever remaining international connections with Moscow and punish what they called enablers of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government—including Russian tycoons. “We recognize that the oligarchs are the appendages of Mr. Putin’s mafia state,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission, which held a hearing Wednesday on Russia's financial ties abroad. “I can’t wait to see police tape around mansions in Miami," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.). Witnesses before the commission, a U.S. agency that has frequently scrutinized Moscow, sought to portray Russian billionaires and their network of lawyers and agents in the West as little different from Russian government employees and its lawyers abroad. Bill Browder, a prominent critic of the Kremlin’s human-rights record, called on the U.S. to withdraw from the mutual legal-assistance treaty that allows U.S. and Russian law enforcement to cooperate on investigations and secure witness testimony. Western countries should ban lawyers paid by the Russian government in one country from traveling to their countries, he said. The Kremlin used the Interpol international law-enforcement network in an effort to arrest Mr. Browder after his lawyer died in a Russian prison in 2009. Mr. Browder, who founded investment fund Hermitage Capital, said the U.S. and partner countries should seek to remove Moscow from Interpol or “basically threaten the funding of Interpol if Russia is not expelled.” Mr. Browder was the largest private investor in Russia until his expulsion from that country in 2005. Moscow should also lose its membership and face blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental body that audits the ability of nations to detect and disrupt illicit finance, said Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine. Mr. Browder and Ms. Kaleniuk were among five witnesses at the hearing.

  • Countering Oligarchs, Enablers, and Lawfare

    As influential proxies of Russian dictator Vladmir Putin, Russian oligarchs work to weaken Western democracies from within. They pay Western enablers—especially lawyers and lobbyists—millions to use their standing in democratic societies to generate policies favorable to the authoritarian regime in Russia and to silence its critics. On April 6, 2022, the Helsinki Commission heard from five witnesses who testified on the corruption of Russian oligarchs, as well as the various means through which such oligarchs censure journalists from reporting on their nefarious activities. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing by recognizing oligarchs as appendages of Putin’s government who have engaged in extensive laundering and looting of the Russian state. He stressed the importance of sanctioning oligarchs, who utilize the existing financial and judicial frameworks of Western democracies to protect themselves from legal harm, as well as their accountants and lawyers, who utilize lawfare as means of continuing their kleptocratic ways and silencing those who report on their crimes. “We have to fortify our system against lawfare,” he stated. “And we hope that we can win this fight.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) asserted that oligarchs, while stealing and oppressing the Russian public, also are funding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “In exchange for the lavish lifestyles that they live, these oligarchs pledge their loyalty to the mid-level KGB agent… currently overseeing Europe’s biggest land war since 1945,” he remarked. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a battle between the virtues of the free world and the vices of a corrupt state. “Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine is a democracy… because it shows accountability over corruption,” he stated. “This is the most black and white conflict in recent memory.” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre, testified that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was due to fear of Ukraine’s fight against corruption. On February 22, when Putin declared war on Ukraine, he referred to numerous anti-corruption reforms for which the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre had advocated. “It was clear to me in that moment that Ukraine’s successful story in fighting corruption is actually the ultimate threat to Vladmir Putin and to his kleptocratic regime,” she remarked. She argued that integral to Putin’s success throughout the years is his legion of legal and financial professionals. “There are two battlefields,” she stated. “One in Ukraine…. And another one in the West, where America is obligated to fight by targeting Russian oligarchs and their enablers.” Bill Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, described his experience following the passing of the Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of kleptocrats and human-rights violators. He highlighted the team of Western professionals who helped Putin target him for his work to passing the legislation. To ensure these Western enablers are held accountable for their actions, Browder recommended that Congress speak out and deny government employment to such organizations in the future. “We should make a list of these type of firms that do this enabling, this list should be put together by the U.S. Congress, and there should be a recommendation to the U.S. Government not to do business with these firms going forward,” he said. “They can pick sides. They can decide they want to work for the bad guys. And if they work for the bad guys, then they shouldn’t get any money from the U.S. government. Scott Stedman, founder of Forensic News, described the increased use of lawfare by oligarchs as a weapon to intimidate reporters into silence. He spoke of his experience reporting on Walter Soriano, a businessman with reported ties to multiple Russian oligarchs. Soriano filed a lawsuit against Forensic News and its contributors, attempting to silence Stedman through financial intimidation and lawfare. “Mr. Soriano’s U.S. litigation counsel Andrew Brettler wrote to me threatening yet more legal action if I did not pay a U.K. court for more money than I’ve ever had in any bank account,” he said. “This is what lawfare looks like. It is designed to suppress, stall, scare critical coverage of the Russian elite and their enablers.” Anna Veduta, vice president of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation International, outlined the need to sanction corrupt Russian politicians, oligarchs, enablers, and their family members. The assets these oligarchs and enablers have acquired are held by relatives, she argued, who have yet to be sanctioned. “People responsible for these lies, people who are poisoning Russian people with these lies, still can enjoy spring break in Miami and take their kids to Disneyland,” she said. “So I am going to quote Alexei Navalny once again, ‘Warmongers must be treated as war criminals.’” Shannon Green, executive director of the USAID Anti-Corruption Task Force and senior advisor to the Administrator highlighted the reliance of autocrats like Putin on oligarchs and enablers. She reviewed USAID initiatives to support reform coalitions and confront lawfare domestically, as well as efforts to develop new programs to confront kleptocracy abroad.   Addressing her fellow panelists, she stated, “Anna, Bill, Daria, Scott, we draw inspiration and courage from your example. And the U.S. government’s message to you, and to all of your fellow change agents, is: Be not afraid. We stand with you.” Related Information Witness Biographies Statement for the Record: Arabella Pike, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers

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