Today's date:
Spring 2001

Justice is Patient

Vojislav Kostunica is the president of Yugoslavia. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 28.

NPQ | Will the new government cooperate with the UN tribunal that wants to extradite Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague and try him for war crimes?

VOJISLAV KOSTUNICA | We are aware of our responsibilities in this regard, despite the fact that we have our doubts about how The Hague court operates in its departure from the traditions of American and British law. And, for me, the "selective justice" of the tribunal is not justice. It seems only top Serbs are being indicted, and not those from other nations. And why has the court not proceeded with investigations into the NATO campaign?

Nonetheless, we are already cooperating. I received the tribunal prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, in Belgrade. Beyond that, it is a matter of time. The proper legal basis must be laid first, and that can take months. That is what I told Carla del Ponte.
My first priority, in any case, is the future, not the past. My first obligation is to the people who voted for me. We have 800,000 refugees, 40 percent unemployment and massive damage to our infrastructure from the NATO campaign. Serb soldiers are being killed along the frontier with Kosovo. The future status of Montenegro is unclear. So, what is more important than justice at this moment is stability and peace in the region.

NPQ | You say cooperation with the tribunal is a matter of time and creating the proper legal basis for extradition. Carla del Ponte says "there is no cooperation in Belgrade." How do you respond to that?

These declarations of Carla del Ponte apparently are a reaction to not being satisfied with her conversations in Belgrade. But all of us in the government told her the same thing: We need a proper legal basis to proceed, and we don't have that yet. I know that many Europeans and the US State Department are rather critical of her approach. They do not support her statement that we are not cooperating.

NPQ | So, you intend to cooperate fully when the time comes?

KOSTUNICA | Well, the time has already come. As I said, we have already taken the first step toward cooperation. Carla del Ponte came to Belgrade and we had conversations with her about "extradition" of Mr. Milosevic, or, as she likes to say, "transfers" to The Hague. But "transfers" are not the only way of cooperating.
No matter how ambitious the objectives of the tribunal, Serbia's problems are deeper. They have to do with our history and why our nation went down the path it did over the last 10 years. That is why we need a "truth and reconciliation" commission, like the one in South Africa, besides an international court. An international court cannot cope with such historical investigations, but that is what we need above all to heal our nation.

Justice may sometimes be slow. But we must not be impatient. I assure you, justice will come.

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