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Amnesty chides Croatia for war crime probe failure

By Snjezana Vukic
Associated Press / December 8, 2010

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ZAGREB, Croatia—Amnesty International on Thursday accused Croatia of failing to prosecute war crimes quickly and impartially, saying many perpetrators of brutalities may never face trial because of the country's lack of will to investigate its painful history.

Despite promises by the government to aggressively probe war crimes committed during the country's bloody 1991-1995 ethnic war with Serb rebels, the country only closes 18 cases each year, with about 700 cases yet to be prosecuted and many likely never to come to trial, the human rights watchdog said in a new report.

"Croatia must deal with its past in order to move forward" said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's Europe and Asia director, who added that the slow pace could hamper the country's dream of entering the European Union. Though there has been some progress, "justice has been slow in coming and very selective."

The country has been reluctant to investigate the ethnic Croat majority, with three quarters of the accused being ethnic Serbs, the report said. Public allegations against several senior Croatian political and military officials -- including the deputy speaker of parliament, for instance -- have not been investigated, it said.

"Many of the failings of the Croatian justice system may result in large part from a lack of political will to deal with the legacy of the war," Duckworth said.

The report slams the former Yugoslav nation as it enters the final stage of EU negotiations, with the goal of entering the bloc in 2012. The European justice commissioner has already warned that the country must speed up its judicial reforms to make its courts fully impartial and effective, to enforce the fight against corruption and organized crime and provide all rights to refugees and minorities.

"Impunity for war crimes is a stumbling block toward membership" in the EU, Duckworth said.

Croatia long insisted that Serbs were the sole perpetrators of atrocities during the war, which began when the country's minority Serbs rebelled against Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia. That stance changed in 2000, when pro-Western governments began launching proceedings against some Croats, resulting in war crimes convictions of at least three senior officials and dozens of soldiers.

Croatia gave amnesty to thousands of Serbs from charges of participating in armed rebellion. It has also cooperated with the U.N. war crimes court, which is trying three Croatian generals of war crimes. Many Croats however, continue to believe that most of the wartime atrocities were committed by Serbs, who seized the third of the country in 1991.

Amnesty said in its report since war crimes "have no ethnicity," Croatia should improve its legislation and practice to deliver justice and truth.

"The victims expect, and deserve, no less," Duckworth said.

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