Participants in a panel said on Friday that Croatia should use its position as a European Union member state to force Serbia to change, within negotiations with the EU on the judiciary and fundamental rights, a law whereby it expanded its war crimes jurisdiction to the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Croatian member of the European Parliament Andrej Plenkovic, of the ruling HDZ party, said he was confident that the Serbian authorities were willing to seriously discuss the matter. He was addressing the panel "Serbian abuse of the institute of universal jurisdiction - the continuation of aggression through legal means", organised by the Matica Hrvatska association.

Plenkovic said Croatian MEPs last year raised the issue of Serbia's law on jurisdiction in war crimes cases on the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia, but that not even their Slovenian colleagues supported them.

He said MEPs from other countries were reserved for fear that Croatia wanted to use the European Parliament to solve bilateral issues. However, he said a resolution on Serbia's progress for this year and the next contained a formulation with a clear message to Serbia that it must reconsider the contentious law in the spirit of good neighbourly relations and in cooperation with the neighbours and the European Commission.

Plenkovic said he felt the Serbian authorities had received the message, incorporating it in their war crimes strategy, and that they were "willing to seriously discuss the matter." He said it was not just a question of Croatian citizens' legal security but "a sort of battle for the truth about the wars" in the former Yugoslavia.

Plenkovic said Croatia did not wish to slow down Serbia's EU accession but rather prove that Serbia was abusing international law and "downplaying the sacrifice of those killed" in those wars. He said Croatia had the task to link that issue with the European acquis, not just regarding the judiciary and fundamental rights, but the European arrest warrant as well.

International law expert Toma Galli said the Serbian law in question was aimed at "covering up Serbia's criminal role in the conflicts in (the former Yugoslavia) and the brutal aggression on its own neighbours through an as balanced as possible division of responsibility by taking on the roles of prosecutor and judge."

He said the law was "a continuation of the aggression on Croatia through legal means" and contrary to the institute of universal jurisdiction. He recalled that in its EU accession negotiations Croatia had passed a thorough review of its judiciary and human rights protection system, and said that Croatia should make Serbia's opening of the negotiation chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights conditional on changes to the contentious law.

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