February 15, 2006
Serbia recently adopted a law establishing a programme to protect those whose lives may be in danger as a result of testifying in court. The move is expected to strengthen the fight against organised crime.
Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic and US Ambassador to Belgrade Michael Polt signed an agreement earlier this month on US assistance for setting up a witness protection programme in Serbia. The United States is providing Serbia with training as well as $75,000 for implementation.
A law establishing such a programme in Serbia came into effect on 1 January. The police unit that will guard the endangered individuals was formed in September 2005, and 12 Serbian police officers have already trained for the job in the United States.
Under the new law, protection will be given to witnesses, victims, defendants, judges, and court experts — as well as members of their families — if their lives are placed in danger as a result of testimony at trials. Protected persons will be hidden in Serbia and in neighbouring countries. Police can change their identity or even their physical appearance.
Jocic and Polt agreed that witness protection is crucial in the fight against the most severe forms of organised crime. According to Jocic, the knowhow provided by the United States is “invaluable in the implementation of the witness protection programme, which is one of the most important elements in the battle against organised crime”.
“This US donation will conspicuously contribute to the implementation of the protection programme and is one more step forward in establishing the Serbian government’s priority — the rule of law,” Jocic said at the 2 February signing.
Polt praised the Serbian government for adopting the new law, and said he is happy to co-ordinate with the justice ministry. Establishing a firm rule of law is the foundation of every democratic country and the lack of a justice system jeopardises a society’s values, he said.
Polt also said that witness protection is crucial in the fight against organised crime, including transnational crime. Serbia must keep enhancing its legal framework to ensure fair processes and safety for all victims and witnesses — “a necessary step” for the country’s full Euro-Atlantic integration, the ambassador said.
The United States will assist Serbia in the battle against corruption and crime, in finalising war crimes trials and in establishing an efficient and reliable legal system, free of political influence, Polt added.
The aid to Serbian police will be realised through the US Justice Ministry Permanent Legal Adviser’s programme and the US Marshal Service.
Published on SETimes (http://www.setimes.com)