Controversial Law on the Support of ICTY Indicted

Controversial Law on the Support of ICTY Indicted

Wednesday, 21st 2004

(By Andrea Saula)

Serbia’s Constitutional Court has frozen a controversial law providing state aid- taxpayer’s money- for Serb war crimes suspects in UN custody on trial at The Hague.

A statement from the country’s Constitutional court said the judges had imposed a temporary ban on the implementation of the law. It gave the Serbian Parliament 30 days to respond.
In the opinion of observers and some legal experts in Belgrade, the law, adopted at the end of March, has added to international concern over Belgrade’s policy towards the UN war crimes tribunal.

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The legislation would provide subsidies to Serbs, like former President Slobodan Milosevic, waiting or already standing trial at the court including compensation for lost earnings, legal fees, telephone costs, travel and accommodation for family members.

Serbian based human rights groups argued the legislation offered aid only to war crimes suspects before the UN court and not to defendants on trial in Serbia.

The head of monitoring in the Council of Europe’s mission to Serbia and Montenegro, Jan-Luis Laurent, said that the legislation could be received as a “political message”.

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco is the head of the Yugoslav Committee of Lawyers, which lodged legal complaints with Serbia’s Constitutional Court stalling the implementation of the law:

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco: This provisional measure is a clear sign that the law adopted in the Assembly, at the end will be put out of effect or at least decrees that are ideological and put in unequal position those who are indicted in front of domestic Courts and put in favor those who are indicted in front of the ICTY.

It shows the attitude that ICTY is some foreign body that has been imposed to Serbia and that Serbia now stands behind these people no mater the fact that they were indicted for most serious crimes.

Shortly after the Serbian Assembly endorsed the law, public speculation emerged as to the political motivation of the ruling coalition.

The nationalist ruling coalition created a so-called “minority party” with the support of the Socialist Party of Serbia-- the party of ousted president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Foreign diplomats avoided directly accusing the new Government and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica – who publicly supported the legislation—when the law was adopted.

Aleksandar Djordjevic, the spokesperson from the delegation of the European Commission to Serbia and Montenegro, says the

EU Commission welcomes the decision of Serbian Constitutional Court:

Aleksandar Djordjevic: Our stand is based only on general accepted set of laws. We didn’t deal with what are the political consequences of that law. It just seemed to us that by this law the rule of law is in a way violated, because citizens of one country are put in different positions and that is violating their constitutional rights.

It doesn’t have anything to do with politics, with any political connotation of this law or with comments in public, which say that one political group forced this law against another political group.

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco is more direct on this issue. She sees the legislation as an attempt to restore the former image of Slobodan Milosevic:

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco: It is an ideological law that has been brought forward because of buying loyalty from radicals and the Socialist Party of Serbia. That law was adopted with a lot of turbulence within the minority government.

It is not likely that one of the parties of the Government abstained from voting. The substance of the law shows that the law was brought and adopted against the rule of law. Practically, this law has rehabilitated the policy of Slobodan Milosevic.

That is not an empty phrase because all those who are indicted for the most serious crimes against humanity are put in a position of privilege in relation to all citizens of this country and in relation to those who are indicted for much less serious crimes. All that was done was to show the basic stance of this country towards the ICTY like an imposed Court of international injustice”. That’s why this law isn’t in accordance with the Constitution

The Constitutional Court ruling cited Serbia’s Constitution, which states that all citizens of the republic are- quote- “equal and enjoy equal rights and duties.”

Representatives from the ruling party were not quick to comment publicly on the decision of the Court to delay the legislation.

Even so, some like Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vuk Draskovic, who is also the head of the Serbian renewal Movement, openly opposed the law.

Half of the MPs from another ruling party, G17 Plus, abstained from voting on the measure.

But members of the Democratic Party of Serbia-- the biggest party within the ruling coalition-- showed their dissatisfaction with the High court’s ruling.

Djordje Mamula is an MP with DSS:

Djordje Mamula: It’s been said that the suspension was brought because of possible consequences but what has not been said is that there is no causative connection between the thing that the Court determined and the decrees of the Constitution, which are violated, in the opinion of the Constitutional Court.

As far as I can see the Court thinks that the prior idea is not divisive but the concrete application in concrete cases because I have to remind you that the Council of the Ministers of Serbia and Montenegro, on the June the 5th of last year, endorsed the decision to give financial support to the indicted and their families. That decision we put into the law in the Assembly. But the idea is not decisive, in the opinion of the High Court. That’s important. No matter the propaganda that is currently orchestrated.

But Biljana Kovacevic Vuco doesn’t agree that Serbia’s Constitutional Court can block a provision of the legislation without overruling the whole legislation:

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco: The Constitution Court ruled that the legislation would not go into effect before the “final decision”. The final decision is supposed to be brought within 30 days, after that deadline, the Assembly must give its arguments supporting why this measure was adopted.

Only then, the Constitutional Court can consider the arguments-- both those about how the law is not in accordance with the Serbian Constitution and those that come from the Assembly, which is obviously in favor of the law. After that, according to my judgment, as well as that of my colleges, the Constitutional Court will for certain intervene. We cannot predict if that intervention will be the abolition of the law or abolition of certain decrees-- those decrees that should bring that law in accordance with the rights of poor. It is almost impossible just to change certain decrees because the way the law was written and says that right on material support have all those citizens of Serbia who are indicted in front of ICTY.

To date, the Ministry of Finance has not proposed a tax rate for this legislation, but what is known is that the average Serb salary is 200 euro a month.

Just a day after the Serbian Assembly endorsed the legislation, the US Government decided to suspend 57 million from the 100 million dollars in financial aid to Serbia. Full cooperation with the ICTY is the first conditional set by EU and the United States to facilitate the process of Serbia’s integration into the European community and getting any kind of financial assistance.

That is all for this edition of UNMIK on Air, thanks for listening and stay tuned for more.

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