The EU has urged Serbia to transfer control of the witness protection unit from the police to the Ministry of Justice, as the witnesses are often threatened by those responsible for their safety.According to Jelko Kacin, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia, the Ministry of Interior’s Witness Protection Unit, WPU, needs to be transferred to some other institution, such as the Ministry of Justice, as the witnesses are often intimidated by the police.
“Due to the fact that most of the atrocities [during the 1990s conflicts] were committed by the special police forces and not the army, this is not the best approach,” Kacin said.
“Those who are ready testify, to share all the details about those atrocities, then they become witnesses protected by this unit, which intimidates them. This is something completely unacceptable,” he added.
Some protected witness publically complained. Zoran Raskovic, a former protected witness, said in January, that he had been subjected to blatant intimidation by members of the WPU, who also threatened his parents.
In spite of his complaints, he said nothing had been done to improve his safety.
Raskovic was a member of the notorious military unit known as the “Jackals”, which has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Kosovo. He was considered a key witness in the ongoing trial of his former comrades.
Kacin said that the EU is ready to help Serbia in ensuring safety of the protected witnesses.
“My position is that 27 EU member states are more than ready to share the burden and to accept individuals [witnesses] and their families on their territory and within their institutions until the Serbian state becomes well equipped and organised, “ Kacin said.
The Witness Protection Unit, WPU, was set up in 2006 in the War Crimes Chamber and is currently run by the Interior Ministry.
Treatment of witnesses by the WPU has been widely criticized by a number of international institutions, including the OSCE, Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
In its latest resolution on Serbia, on March 28, the European Parliament noted “serious deficiencies in the functioning of the witness protection programme, regarding cases of war crimes which resulted in a number of witnesses voluntarily opting out of the programme after being systematically intimidated.”
The Council of Europe Rapporteur, Jean-Charles Gardetto, said in a report last December that inappropriate behaviour by the WPU members towards witnesses had resulted in witnesses changing their testimony or deciding not to testify at all.
Gardetto also noted that several members of the WPU are reportedly former members of the notorious “Red Berets” special police unit, who have been responsible for killings in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, as well as the murder of Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.