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More than 750 Kosovo-Metohija cases under OWCP investigation - I am not satisfied with the dynamics of the Srebrenica trial. The form of the OWCP cooperation with the Mechanism will proceed along the same lines as that with the ICTY. By Miroslava Derikonjić Wednesday, 03 January 2018, 22:00 hrs. - The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) is committed to the prosecution of all war criminals regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, primarily because it is the only way for victims of those crimes to feel – at least in part – that justice has been served. Still, as soon as it initiates criminal proceedings against concrete individuals suspected of involvement in concrete war crimes, this Office is often faced with accusations that it prosecutes only Serbs, says Snežana Stanojković, War Crimes Prosecutor, in her inteview for Poliika. - The task of this Office is to prosecute all war criminals within its reach and to offer – through international cooperation – its full contribution to the prosecution of those available to judicial authorities of other countries, the Prosecutor notes. In her first interview for the Serbian media, Prosecutor Stanojković discloses that her Office has taken more than 700 cases from Kosovo-Metohija. Has the OWCP examined those cases, and if so, in which way? Following an exhaustive analysis of the cases transferred, we have retained those related to events covered by the OWCP competence. More specifically, a total of 761 such cases have been duly filed and assigned to case administrators for further processing. What is the current status of investigations regarding Serbs and other non- Albanians who went missing from Kosovo-Metohija between 1998 and 2000? For the first time now, the OWCP has created a comprehensive database of Kosovo- Metohija victims, without discrimination in terms of nationality. Similarly, a database has been created to include those perished in the territory of Croatia, whereas the creation of a similar base for the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina is currently under way. All of the data in the OWCP possession will be compared with those available to the Serbian Government’s Commission on Missing Persons, in compliance with the National War Crimes Prosecution Strategy. Is the OWCP still investigating the case of human organs trafficking? At one point in the past, the public was acquainted with the statement of an important witness in that case. Is he still available to Serbia’s judiciary? The case of human organs trafficking, known as the Yellow House, is still active. We should wait until the commencement of work of the so-called court for KLA crimes and see if some indictments will be raised in relation to those crimes. As for the witness mentioned, I’d rather make no comments. Information obtained in the course of pre- investigative proceedings is confidential. The disclosure of any facts collected at this stage would therefore be very irresponsible and even unlawful. According to official announcements, investigation into the case against Ramush Haradinaj will be pursued. What concrete steps are being made in that context? Pursuant to the OWCP order, investigation against Haradinaj has been extended and further efforts are being made in that direction. Bearing in mind the confidentiality of investigation, I shall only say that the current proceedings do not address the events which were the subject of the ICTY charges and detention order against Haradinaj, or of his apprehension in France in January 2017. Are you satisfied with the dynamics of the Srebrenica trial? I am not. In the particular case, the Appellate Court dismissed the indictment and ordered the OWCP to file a request for the continuation of proceedings. We are now waiting for the Appellate Court’s decision upon our request for the separation of evidence presented up to this stage of proceedings. Have the Croatian authorities contacted you about the prosecution of former JNA officers for involvement in the 1999 air attack on Banski Dvori in Zagreb, launched while Franjo Tuđman, Stjepan Mesić and Ante Marković were inside the building? All that I know about the Banski Dvori case is what I could learn from the media. No one from the Croatian State Prosecutor’s Office has approached me about that. The case of Banski Dvori was presented at a press conference in Zagreb, with gratitude expressed to the Croatian intelligence services for their efforts to collect relevant evidence. How would you describe communication between your Office and the national security agencies? When there is need for such communication, the OWCP approaches these agencies and cooperates with them along the lines prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Code. The case invariably mentioned in the context of relations between Serbia and USA is that of the Bytyqi Brothers. Which is the current status of that case? It should be remembered that the court has acquitted two defendants in the Bytyqi case. Consequently, the OWCP has issued a new investigation order and is now actively engaged in the search for any evidence/data that may facilitate the clarification of that crime. What is your response to critical remarks suggesting that the focus of the OWCP work has been on Serbian suspects rather than on Serbian victims? Such public impressions have been based on the figures relating to the national backgrounds of individuals prosecuted by this Office. The analysis of trial monitoring results obtained by the OSCE Mission to Serbia indicates that, in the period 2013-2014, as much as 86% of defendants were Serbs. The fact that must be considered before any valid conclusions are made is that the availability of those responsible for crimes against Serbs has been an exception rather than a rule, and that such individuals generally remain beyond the reach of the Serbian judicial authorities. Even more importantly, before anybody could claim that the OWCP has failed to give due attention to Serbian victims, they would need to be aware of hundreds of OWCP cases addressing war crimes against Serbs. Work on such cases, however, is not visible to the public before the initiation of criminal proceedings against relevant perpetrators. We are bound by the laws which govern the work of this Office to prosecute all war criminals regardless of their nationality. Still, since there is a wider dimension to the prosecution of war criminals, namely the one which – beside individual guilt – concerns the democratic maturity of our state and society as a whole, the OWCP has to remain aware of that aspect as well. This Office is a prosecution service of the Republic of Serbia, a state which did not declare itself as a newly independent state amidst the hostilities in the former Yugoslav territory. With this on mind, and aware of the fact that, even following the worst crimes against Serbian civilians in the First World War, the Yugoslav Royal Army treated its prisoners of war and wounded captives in compliance with the then applicable conventions, this Office is obligated to show increased sensitivity towards each crime against humanity and international law, allegedly committed in the name of the Serbian people. The Tribunal’s successor is the Mechanism for International Criminal Courts (MICT). Will you cooperate with the new court, and if so, in which way? Basically, the OWCP work is in no way affected by the completion of the Tribunal’s mandate. The Memorandum of Cooperation with the Office of the MICT Prosecutor was signed as early as in 2014. The OWCP cooperation with the Mechanism will be in the same form as that with the Tribunal, mostly through the OWCP liaison officer assigned to the Office of the MICT Prosecutor. Those responsible for crimes against Serbs are generally unavailable to the OWCP, even when there is strong evidence against such individuals. Are trials in absentia acceptable for your Office? In my election programme, I referred to trials in absentia as a legal option – after all other options have been exhausted – of delivering justice to war crimes victims and injured citizens of Serbia. Those who – for reasons to me unknown – overlooked my commitment to regional cooperation as a priority option in war crimes prosecutions, tendentiously read my reference to trials in absentia as the key point of my programme. What I wish to point out is that trials in absentia are just a legal option at the disposal of our judicial authorities. That option may be considered when, despite all compelling evidence, there is no response from the national jurisdictions where potential perpetrators are within reach. The OWCP remained without a Chief Prosecutor for a year, which delayed the fulfillment of obligations envisaged by the Action Plan. Which particular obligations have not been fulfilled? Is it possible to overcome the delay, and how? In order to make up for lost time, this Office has intensified its work on activities anticipated by the Action Plan for Chapter 23. As a result, most activities have been completed, and the completion of the remaining ones is expected soon. During your term of office, which will cover the next six years, what are you going to do in order to improve the OWCP work? I am going to manage the work of this Office in accordance with the operational improvement programme which I presented at the time of my election as War Crimes Prosecutor. I have been working in compliance with that programme from the moment I took office. Of course, the OWCP performance will also depend on its human and material capacities. Public relations You have been criticized for a lack of communication with the media and for insufficient transparency of the OWCP work? In March 2016, Mr. Milan Petrović, Head of the OWCP at the time, decided to disband the Public Relations Unit, until then operating within this Office. The fact that the PR Unit no longer exists does not mean that I shall avoid or refuse communication with the media. Whenever I have to say something, I shall not hesitate to approach the media about that.