Kovač: Serbian law on war crimes must not apply to Croatia according to the EU common position for Chapter 23

Miro Kovač

ZAGREB – If Serbia wants to make progress on its path towards European Union membership, it cannot apply its own law on regional jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution to Croatia, according to the EU’s common position that was presented by Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovač in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Croatia has repeatedly demanded that Serbia repeal its law on regional jurisdiction over war crimes by which Serbia declared jurisdiction for trying war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991 regardless of the nationality of perpetrators and victims.

Speaking at a press conference, Kovač said that the text of the EU’s common position on the opening of Chapter 23 in accession talks with Serbia was agreed on Tuesday, adding that one of the transitional benchmarks was the need to avoid conflicts of jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution.

“I am very happy that, when it comes to Chapter 23, we have succeeded in including in the common EU position everything that is important for the rule of law, for us in Croatia, for the EU,” Kovač said.

Asked to comment on the statement by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić that Serbia had no intention of repealing the law on regional jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution, Kovač said: “You will have to ask Mr Vučić what he meant by that. I just gave you an idea of what Serbia would have to do on its EU path, which criteria it would have to meet. In this particular chapter that means avoiding a conflict of legal jurisdiction in prosecuting war crimes.”

“The Serbian law concerning the prosecution of war crimes cannot apply to Croatia,” he stressed.

Kovač said that the common position was yet to be confirmed by an intergovernmental conference, which could be held soon.

The transitional benchmarks also include full cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the application of the national and international obligations of Serbia in protecting minority rights, cooperation with neighbours in shedding light on the whereabouts of the war missing and ensuring the rights of victims, including the right to compensation for war victims.

“Serbia now has a chance to move forward. It’s all up to Serbia,” Kovač said. “The criteria have been established and these are the criteria of EU member states. We hope that we have helped with our contribution, that we have shown, despite the referendum in Great Britain, that we believe in the survival of the EU and in the enlargement process.”

“We want a cool-headed, rational cooperation with Serbia, without verbal conflicts and without going back to the past, to the Second World War, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. There’s no need for that. We have to clear up what is behind us, discuss the problems, tackle the problems, but look forward, rather than attack each other with verbal escapades,” the Croatian minister concluded.