The EU Pressures Serbia to Find Mladic

The EU Pressures Serbia to Find Mladic

The U.S. media have done a decent job covering Serbia’s admission that hard-liners in its military are hiding war-crimes suspect General Ratko Mladic, wanted by the ICTY for allegedly orchestrating the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica. There has been relatively little coverage, however, of a particularly interesting aspect of the story: the European Union’s threat to suspend talks with Serbia regarding membership in the EU if it does not find Mladic and turn him over to the ICTY. The strategy appears to be working: after weeks of denying any knowledge of Mladic’s whereabouts, Serbia not only admitted the military-Mladic link, it began investigating the officers involved, formed a central authority to pool information gathered by the civilian Security-Information Agency and the army’s military security and intelligence agencies, and appointed a highly-respected local prosecutor to serve as an intermediary between the Serbian intelligence agencies and the ICTY. Moreover, a few days ago Serbia arrested a former army officer believed to have helped Mladic evade capture.

This is the second time the EU has used the possibility of membership to coerce a reluctant state to get serious about apprehending one of its war criminals. A similar strategy motivated Croatia to begin looking for one of its war criminals, General Ante Gotovina. Gotovina was ultimately arrested by Spanish police in December, 2005, on the island of Mallorca. The ICTY credits Gotovina’s arrest to an extensive Croatian surveillance operation that monitored the fugitive general’s supporters and family members for much of last year.

The EU’s willingness to connect EU membership to cooperation with the ICTY is a very positive sign for international criminal law. In the aftermath of internal armed conflicts, tribunals such as the ICTY, ICTR, and ICC depend upon the cooperation of the war-torn state to identify, locate, and apprehend individuals responsible for international crimes. As the Serbian and Croatian examples indicate, however, such cooperation is rarely forthcoming – given that the perpetrators are often (if not usually) government officials or members of the military themselves, the state rarely has any incentive to do so. That’s where the EU comes in: to provide the incentive that is otherwise lacking. With EU membership – and the vast economic and political benefits that comes with it – potentially hanging in the balance, even the most reticent state has to think twice about stonewalling an international criminal tribunal.

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