Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes – dead letters
More than a year after the adoption of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 (Action Plan), the provisions of this document relating to the prosecution of war crimes are being carried out superficially, for merely ”cosmetic” purposes, and many of the prescribed activities are not being carried out at all. The situation is the same when it comes to the implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes (National Strategy). It must therefore be said that the state authorities responsible for the implementation of the above provisions of the Action Plan and National Strategy are falsely informing the public about their work, and continually making it difficult for the civil society to access relevant information and monitor their work. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that such behaviour is contrary to the obligations of the accession negotiations with the EU, and is an indicator of Serbia’s lack of commitment to the reform process, as well as sincere effort to prosecute war crimes more efficiently.
When it comes to the Action Plan for Chapter 23, the Ministry of Justice has to date published on its website a total of four reports about its implementation. After reviewing them, the HLC has concluded that only a very small number of planned activities relating to the prosecution of war crimes have been implemented, that Serbia is creating a mere semblance of a successful implementation of measures related to war crimes trials, and that we have to note that for a significant number of activities there are no reliable data. For instance, in the reports for activity 126.96.36.199., which should show what has been done regarding all the criminal charges of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor since 2005 until today, it is stated in last year’s reports (1-2/2016, 3/2016 and 4/2016) that the “activity is almost completely implemented“, whilst in the most recent report (1/2017), it is stated that, completely to the contrary, the „activity is not implemented“.
The situation is even worse when it comes to the implementation of the National Strategy. The formation of a Working Body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Strategy is already 16 months late, although it was envisaged that this body would be formed 30 days after the adoption of the Strategy. To date, there has been no published official report on the progress in the implementation of the activities envisaged by the Strategy, and almost all the deadlines for the implementation of specific activities have been exceeded.
On account of the lack of accurate and publicly available data on the implementation of the two documents mentioned, the HLC is trying to obtain the relevant information by filing requests for free access to information of public importance. However, in the context of that process, a large number of state institutions responsible for the implementation of measures in the field of the rule of law prevent or impede the civil society from having an insight into their work performance.
The HLC has never received a response regarding certain requests for access to information of public importance, and among the institutions that have turned a deaf ear to requests for information on the implementation of the National Strategy are precisely those entities that are responsible for the implementation of many activities envisaged in this document: the Serbian Commission for Missing Persons, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Judicial Academy. At the same time, it is clear from some replies received that the implementation of the National Strategy has, practically speaking, not even started.
In the latest report on the implementation of the Action Plan 23 (1/2017) for the activity that refers to the establishing of a system of training and education in the field of international criminal law (188.8.131.52.), it is stated that the activity has been successfully implemented. Performance assessment is further supported by the announcement of the beginning of the implementation of the project implemented by the OSCE Mission in Serbia, which will include a number of activities aimed at establishing a sustainable system of training. In the text of the report it is noted that the „…Judicial Academy and the Police Academy will take part in the Project’s Steering Committee as observers“. Following this information, the HLC sent a request to the Police Academy (the name of this institution of higher education is stated in the aforementioned report), and upon receiving their response, it was clear that the Academy of Criminalistic and Police Studies is not familiar with the implementation of the above activities.
To one of the HLC’s requests sent to the Ministry of Justice asking for additional information on the results that the Ministry has accomplished in the field of implementation of the National Strategy, the Ministry responded that the „information requested“ is not contained in one „specific document“, and that therefore they cannot respond to the request. The HLC believes that the Ministry has actually refused to respond to the request; which is a paradox really, considering that the state pledged in the very same Action Plan that „it will enhance the rules of free access to information of public importance and their implementation in practice.”
Negotiations on the accession to the European Union include the involvement of all relevant social stakeholders in this process. The active participation of civil society organizations in the
accession process is of immense importance for informing and involving the professional and interested public, and it is that which provides transparency for the entire process. In its annual reports on the progress of the Republic of Serbia, the European Commission pays special attention to the issue of the inclusion of civil society in the EU accession process, and in the Report for 2016 it is emphasized that “further efforts are needed to ensure systematic inclusion of civil society in policy dialogue and help develop its full potential”, which is an indication that this process is not taking place in the satisfactory manner expected. Moreover, at the Intergovernmental Conference on EU Accession of the Republic of Serbia, the Government of the Republic of Serbia pointed out in its opening statement that the civil society organizations will play a special role in the accession negotiations, and that „in this way the process will get full legitimacy and it will become the ownership of all the citizens of the Republic of Serbia”.
The HLC therefore calls on state institutions to cease the practice of faking the results of their work, to move from cosmetic to actual reforms, and to start finally with the implementation of measures related to improving the prosecution of war crimes envisaged by the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy. The establishment of the monitoring mechanisms envisaged and the inclusion of civil society in the reform process will certainly be helpful for the entire process. Improvement of the system of reporting on the work of the competent state authorities is one of the basic prerequisites for more transparent work that should contribute to state institutions taking responsibility for meeting or failing to meet their obligations.