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Helsinki Commission Leaders Urge Tough U.S. Stance on Indicted War Criminals

Washington – At a March 17 hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe focusing on Serbia, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and House Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) urged the U.S. Department of State to insist on Belgrade’s full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague.

 The remarks were made in anticipation of a March 31 deadline for State Department certification that Belgrade is cooperating with the ICTY.  U.S. assistance to Serbia beyond March 31 is conditioned by law on such certification, a contingency placed on assistance since 2001.

Chairman Smith noted that some senior Belgrade officials “do not have the political will to break fully from the past,” viewing with “great dismay…reluctance if not obstruction in cooperation with The Hague.”  Smith urged that certification await a sea change in Belgrade on this issue.

Commissioner Cardin expressed concern that “U.S. policy to date has made authorities in Belgrade, Banja Luka and elsewhere feel they can wait the Tribunal out.  We need an unambiguous policy response which includes withholding certification on assistance…until Belgrade demonstrates concrete progress on meeting its international legal obligations to comply with the Tribunal.”

Both Commissioners noted many improvements in relations between the United States and Serbia since 2000 and said the United States should continue to strengthen this relationship. Commissioner Cardin noted, however, that integration of Serbia and Montenegro into Europe and other regional and international organizations depends upon Serbia’s progress in cooperating with The Hague.

The hearing, while focusing on current developments in Serbia, took place amid an eruption of violence in Kosovo caused by a lack of ethnic reconciliation.  Kosovo is an Albanian-dominated region with a sizable Serb minority.  It was also ruled by Serbia until 1999.

Reacting to press reports of several deaths and hundreds wounded in the clashes, Smith said that “attacks on innocent people cannot be tolerated by the international community, nor be allowed to justify political ends.  This is neither a Serb nor an Albanian tragedy, but a human tragedy, and I urge everyone in Kosovo to refrain from further violence.”

Chairman Smith also noted that, while he is dismayed with Serbian officials’ lack of cooperation with the ICTY, he shares “Serbian concerns about…the situation for the Serb, Roma and other minority groups in Kosovo, and the continued obstacles to the return of the displaced.” 

Chairman Smith recently met with Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije regarding attacks on churches in Kosovo and has pressed for greater international attention to outstanding missing persons cases. 

The Helsinki Commission has actively followed events in southeast Europe with particular regard to the Serbian cooperation with The Hague:

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