Foreign Conflicts

With the agreement of the House, I wish to share time with Senator James Carroll.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In the absence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey. The objective of this matter is to establish the current position of the Government on the Brammertz report to be laid before the United Nations in December which reports on the efforts of the Serbian Government to arrest two significant war criminals who have been indicted by the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

My specific interest is in General Mladic. At the beginning of this month, Serbian police forces carried out raids on three locations which have not been universally welcomed by military analysts in Belgrade and in the wider European Continent. It is being suggested that due to the imminent visit of Mr. Brammertz this week the Serbian Government yet again wished to be seen to be proactive in this regard. In fairness to the Serbian Government, I understand it has significantly increased the reward money leading to the capture of this war criminal, Mladic, and this may have been the reason the police search was carried out.

I am anxious to explore with the Minister of State the Government's position on the Dutch parliamentary foreign affairs and European affairs committees which are strongly in favour of suspending any further discussions on Serbian EU membership until and unless the war criminals named, in particular General Mladic, are delivered by the Serbian Government. I appreciate the sensitivities of the Dutch in this regard as it was a Dutch contingent under the UN flag which failed to protect the people of Srebrenica in 1996, resulting in the massacre of almost 8,000 men and young boys. I understand why the Dutch are now anxious to be seen even more on the side of the angels than the rest of us. I do not wish to be ungracious to the Dutch parliamentary committees which have taken this position. I appreciate that Serbia is now led by a moderate government which must be given every encouragement, particularly against the ultra-nationalist forces which are still very active within the country.

It is also of concern to those who are following and monitoring developments in the Balkans. I pay tribute to Peter Walsh and Valerie Hughes in particular, who have been flying the flag in this regard for the Serbian issue, for the wider Balkans and for the protection of human rights and the orderly and political development of that region. There is concern that the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is under threat because of the multi-ethnic nature of its government and the existence of the Republic of Srpska and the fact that ultra-nationalist forces are working to undermine both the continuing existence of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and also the current Serbian Government. I ask, therefore, for a statement of the Government's position. I hope it would side with the Dutch in this regard. We have a proud record of human rights.

I thank Senator Mooney for sharing time. This is a significant international and EU-wide issue that goes to the very heart and the basis of the European Union project. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, stated last August that Ireland would support Serbia's progress based on a positive assessment from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, regarding Serbia's ongoing co-operation. This is the key issue. The Serbian Government has not followed through on its proposals. The chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, has urged the European Governments to maintain pressure on Serbia. He stated that the non-arrest of Mladic would be the worst possible signal one could give to all future tribunals. It would give the signal to perpetrators that one can sit out international justice, that political interest is diminishing over time and that impunity prevails. I encourage the Minister of State to address that issue in his reply because if we allow Serbia's accession talks to progress unfettered, it will result in a stain on Ireland's reputation and the EU project.

I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin.

On 25 October the General Affairs Council decided unanimously to refer Serbia's 2009 application for EU membership to the European Commission for its opinion. This is a technical step and usually happens quickly following the submission of an application. The period for the formulation of that opinion has no specific timeframe, although the Commission's research on Serbia's application is likely to take several months and a report is not expected until the second half of 2011.

It is important to bear in mind that the Commission's formulation of its opinion on Serbia's application represents just one stage in a lengthy process. It is for the Council to decide at each stage whether to move the process forward. This decision must be made with the agreement of all member states.

At the General Affairs Council of 25 October, Ministers reaffirmed that the future of the western Balkans lies in the EU and reiterated that each country's progress towards accession depends on individual efforts to comply with the Copenhagen criteria and the conditionality of the stabilisation and association process. The Council also underlined that a constructive approach towards regional co-operation is essential and called for progress in the process of EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The Council recalled that, in line with the political criteria of Copenhagen, full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is an essential condition for membership of the EU and that Serbia's full co-operation with the ICTY is required by Articles 2 and 4 of the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The Council called upon Serbia to implement recommendations presented by the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor to the United Nations Security Council in June 2010 concerning Serbia's support in ongoing trials and appeals and Serbia's assistance in the key matter of the arrest of the two remaining fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. In addition, the Council emphasised that at each stage of Serbia's path towards EU accession further steps will be taken only when the Council unanimously decides that there is full co-operation with the ICTY.

I share the widespread revulsion at the appalling massacres at Srebrenica and elsewhere during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and I, too, want to see the perpetrators brought to justice as soon as possible. Regrettably, as we know from experience elsewhere, including in this country, justice can sometimes take time to deliver. Serbia must do all in its power to ensure that Mladic and Hadzic are handed over to the ICTY.

We should acknowledge the substantial progress Serbia has made in the ten years since public outrage led to the end of the Miloševic regime. Serbia today is a different place from the Serbia of Miloševic because of the courageous decisions of governments in Belgrade since then. Over the past year in particular, we have seen a number of positive developments which demonstrate that Serbia's Government has moved away from the destructive politics of past decades. The positive developments this year include the handing over of the wartime notebooks of Ratko Mladic to the ICTY in May, the indictment in September of nine former paramilitaries by the country's war crimes prosecutor over the killing of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo conflict, the joint visit by the Serbian and Croatian Presidents to Bosnia for the Srebrenica commemoration this July, the declaration by the Belgrade Parliament last March condemning the Srebrenica massacre, the appointment by Bosnia-Herzegovina in March of an ambassador in Belgrade for the first time in three years, and the joint EU-Serbia UN General Assembly resolution on Kosovo in September.

Serbia's Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, will visit Ireland next Tuesday, 23 November. I understand he will have an opportunity to meet the Joint Committee on European Affairs during his visit. When my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, met him in New York in September, he emphasised the importance Serbia attaches to EU integration. He also underlined Belgrade's commitment to working with the ICTY and his Government's determination to secure the arrest of the two remaining indictees. He pointed out that of the 46 indictees, Serbia has handed over 43 while one committed suicide before transfer to The Hague. The most likely means of achieving the arrest of Mladic and Hadzic lie in a combination of encouragement and pressure designed to empower the progressive elements in Serbia. It is important we send a signal to the people of Serbia of our recognition of the positive direction their country has taken in the past decade. The EU will continue to insist at every step in this process that Serbia is co-operating fully with the ICTY.

On my own behalf and that of Senator Carroll, I convey ourdeepest sympathy to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his wife, Mary, on their sad loss. I can understand why he was unable to take this Adjournment matter.

I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister of State did not refer to the ongoing activities of Mr. Brammertz and the fact that he will be reporting to the UN in December. We have attempted to reflect his concerns in raising this matter. Notwithstanding the clarity of the reply, I would be grateful if the Minister of State could convey to the Department of Foreign Affairs our desire for the Government to indicate its attitude towards the reports being prepared by Mr. Brammertz.

I will bring the Senator's views to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.