Top United Nations officials have joined the international tribunal set up to try those responsible for the worst crimes committed during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s in welcoming today’s arrest in Serbia of Goran Hadžić, who has been at large for more than seven years and was the court’s last remaining fugitive.
Mr. Hadžić, former president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina, was indicted in 2004 for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in eastern Slavonia, Croatia, between 1991 and 1992.
His alleged crimes include participation in exterminating or murdering hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians, deporting or forcibly transferring tens of thousands of them, and imprisoning and confining hundreds of them in detention facilities within and outside of Croatia.
He was the last remaining fugitive of the 161 persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is based in The Hague.
“Mr. Hadžić’s apprehension sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will be held accountable,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
“The Secretary-General’s thoughts today are first and foremost with the victims of Mr. Hadžić’s alleged crimes, the victims of other serious international crimes, and their families. Ending impunity is an essential step for reconciliation, sustainable peace and justice in the region,” the statement added.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay concurred, stating that the arrest sends a strong message that those who commit human rights violations will be held accountable, if not by domestic judicial processes, then by international justice mechanisms.
“[Mr.] Hadžić’s arrest marks a watershed in the important work of the ICTY, 18 years after it was formed to render justice and redress to the victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia,” she added.
The ICTY’s prosecutor, Serge Brammertz said that Mr. Hadžić’s transfer into the court’s custody is a “long-awaited development” for the victims of the crimes charged against him.
“It is also an important milestone in the tribunal’s history. Eighteen years after the tribunal’s creation, we can now say that no indicted person has successfully evaded the tribunal’s judicial process. This is a precedent of enduring significance, not only for this tribunal, but also for international criminal justice more generally,” Mr. Brammertz said.
Mr. Hadžić is now awaiting transfer from Serbia to The Hague, following the completion of relevant legal proceedings required by Serbian law. After his transfer to the tribunal, he will be detained pending his initial appearance before a judge, at which time he will have an opportunity to enter a plea to each of the charges brought against him in the indictment.
The apprehension of Mr. Hadžić comes less than two months after the arrest of wartime Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladiæ. Mr. Brammertz noted that these combined events mark a long-awaited step forward in Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal.
“Serbia has now produced visible evidence that cooperation with the tribunal is not an empty promise but a genuine commitment and we look forward to Serbia’s assistance with our ongoing work,” he stated. “In the weeks and months ahead we will continue to ask Serbia – and all States of the former Yugoslavia – to support our cases by providing access to archives documents and witnesses.”
The Security Council also welcomed today’s arrest, describing it in a press statement read out by Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month, as “an important moment for international justice and for the victims of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.”
Mr. Wittig said that Council members hoped the arrest would also bring the Western Balkans region “closer to reconciliation and a European perspective.”