Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Ratko Mladic seems to be hiding better than Osama bin Laden

Evelina Topalova, May 13, 2011

If still alive, former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic is apparently hiding better than Osama bin Laden. This statement was made by Dusan Ignjatovic, head of Serbian government's office for cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). One of the most wanted war crimes criminals is still at large for more than 15 years and the Hague-based tribunal keeps on insisting on his arrest. Mladic is believed to be responsible for the worst atrocity since the end of World War II. He was charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the killing of more than 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica in the end of the Bosnian war in 1995.

ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz urged once again for his detention while on a visit to Belgrade on May 10-11th. He reiterated that the main working hypothesis is that Mladic is hiding in Serbia which does not exclude other possibilities but the key still remains in Belgrade's hands.

Brammertz's assessment is not something new - Serbia is willing to cooperate but is not doing enough to arrest the war time leader. This will be mentioned in the prosecutor's report to the UN Security Council in June.

The assessment is highly important for Serbian authorities as it is a key pre-condition for the country's further European integration. Serbia hopes to get an EU candidate status and a date for start of the accession talks by the end of the year but this perspective seems more and more unlikely.

The Netherlands, which advocates firmly for conditioning Belgrade's EU integration process with the cooperation with the Hague tribunal, is still not convinced that the authorities are doing their best to meet their obligations to the court. A delegation of the Dutch parliamentary committee on EU integration visited Serbia earlier this week to see how the reforms are going. According to the Danas daily the parliamentarians have concluded that it was too optimistic to believe that Serbia's goals, related to the EU membership, could be met by the year-end.

The EU foreign ministers made a compromise by forwarding last October Serbia's EU application to the Commission for assessment. Back then they stressed that any progress of Belgrade towards the EU membership will depend on the cooperation with the ICTY.

The key point in their conclusions was that any further steps of Serbia in the EU integration process will be made only after the Council unanimously decides that full co-operation with the ICTY exists. This means that opposition by only one member state, in this case the Netherlands, could be detrimental for Serbia's EU bid.