On July 11, tens of thousands gathered to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica of nearly 8,000 captive Muslim men by Bosnian Serb rebel forces—the bloodiest episode of the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia, recognized by the international community as an act of genocide. A special ceremony at Potocari cemetery outside the eastern Bosnian town included internment of the remains of 775 recently identified victims, joining the 3,749 already there. Notably, the ceremony was attended by Serbian President Boris Tadic and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as Charles English, US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). (AFP, July 10; BNO News, July 7) In a sign of hope, Serbian citizens in Belgrade erected a makeshift memorial to the Srebrenica victims, made of old shoes stuffed with personal messages. (RFE/RL, July 10) But, despite official and spontaneous commemorations, the accused military author of the massacre remains at large, whereabouts ostensibly unknown.
Mladic still at large
Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, said that the arrest of Ratko Mladic, military commander of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, is “necessary for the credibility of the European Union.” He told Germany’s daily Die Welt that “without the successful work of the courts, there can be no reconciliation and stability in the Balkans, and that stability will remain nothing but theoretical in the end.” (B-92, July 10) Earlier this year, ICTY prosecutors prepared an amended indictment against Mladic, including 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war. (Jurist, May 19)
Mladic’s wife, Bosiljka Mladic, was arrested in Belgrade June 9 on weapons charges—a move seen by Serb nationalists as a means to pressure her to betray her fugitive husband. Her lawyer, Milos Saljic, told the Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti the arrest was a “revenge of the state” after Mladic’s family attempted last month to have him declared legally dead. (AlJazeera, June 9) ICTY prosecutors insist Mladic is still alive. (UPI, June 21)
Radislav Krstic, Mladic’s second in command, sentenced by the ICTY to 35 years in the UK’s maximum security Wakefield Prison for his role in the Srebrenica genocide, was gravely wounded by three Muslim inmates there who slashed his throat in an apparent revenge attack in May. (The Sun, The Telegraph, May 8)
Karadzic and cohorts in the dock
In April, the ICTY resumed the war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic, wartime Bosnian Serb president. The proceedings opened with the prosecution calling its first witness, Bosnian Muslim survivor Ahmet Zulic. Zulic provided testimony concerning the 1992 attack on his village of Sanski Most, relating how his father was burned alive by Serb troops, and how he witnessed Serbs forcing 20 Muslim men to dig their own graves before executing them.
The ICTY dismissed Kardzic’s latest motion to delay proceedings, in which he argued that there had been a violation of his right to a fair hearing because the court had rejected previous evidentiary challenges. In March, Karadzic—defending himself against 11 counts including genocide—lost another motion to postpone his trial. (Jurist, April 13)
There has been some progress in prosecuting lower-level figures. In June, judges at The Hague handed down two genocide convictions in relation to Srebrenica, sentencing two former Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) security officers to life in prison for their roles in the massacre. The two defendants were Lt. Col. Vujadin Popovic, 53, and Col. Ljubisa Beara, 70. The verdicts, along with five other war-crimes convictions, concluded an almost four-year trial in which many witnesses spoke—sometimes in horrifying detail—of atrocities that followed the VRS capture of the supposedly UN-protected enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa that held tens of thousands of Muslim refugees.
The judges ruled: “The scale and nature of the murder operation, with the staggering number of killings, the systematic and organized manner in which it was carried out, the targeting and relentless pursuit of the victims, and the plain intention—apparent from the evidence—to eliminate every Bosnian Muslim male who was captured or surrendered proves beyond reasonable doubt that this was genocide.” (NYT, The Guardian, June 10)
In May, the ICTY Appeals Chamber affirmed the contempt conviction of Vojislav Seselj, ex-leader of the Serbian Radical Party. The ICTY’s Trial Chamber II found Seselj guilty of contempt last year for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses, and sentenced him to 15 months in prison. Seselj’s war crimes trial resumed in January, after being delayed for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated. He faces 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war related to his command of paramilitary forces in both Bosnia and Croatia. The charges include the massacre of Muslim civilians at the Bosnian villages of Bosanski Samac and Zvornik. (Jurist, May 19; BBC News, Feb. 24, 2003)
In the Bosnian courts
Cases are also pending in Bosnia’s own courts. The appellate division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in May acquitted Serb wartime commander Milos Stupar of genocide charges in connection with the Srebrenica massacre. The ruling overturned a 40-year sentence stemming from a 2008 trial in which Stupar and six other war crimes suspects were convicted. The appellate court found the evidence was not compelling enough to affirmatively establish Stupar’s guilt. (Jurist, May 5)
The Bosnia and Herzegovina war crimes court in April convicted Radomir Vukovic and Zoran Tomic for their alleged roles in the Srebrenica massacre. The accused were found guilty of genocide and each sentenced to 31 years imprisonment. As members of the 2nd Sekovici Special Police Detachment, the court found that Vukovic and Tomic participated in the capturing of Muslim men at Srebrenica who were later killed. They were also convicted of participating in an incident in which 1,000 captured Muslim men were imprisoned in a warehouse, and then executed by Serb police firing automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades. (Jurist, April 22)
Last December, Bosnian police arrested former Bosnian Serb police field commander Goran Markovic on genocide charges in connection with the Srebrenica massacre. (Press TV, Dec. 18)
Muslims in the dock too
The ICTY Appeals Chamber in June terminated the appellate proceedings in the case of wartime BiH army commander Rasim Delic, who died in April while on provisional release in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. Delic was convicted in 2008 for failing to prevent abuses by his El Mujahedin Detachment, which subjected 12 captured members of the VRS to severe beatings and electric shocks and forced them to kiss the severed heads of other detainees. (Jurist, June 30)
A former Muslim president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ejup Ganic, says he fears being killed in a Serbian prison if a British court extradites him to Belgrade to face war crimes charges. Serbian prosecutors accuse Ganic, 64, of responsibility for the shooting of Bosnian Serb troops after they had surrendered in May 1992. Ganic, now a professor who spends much of his time in Britain, was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in March on a warrant issued by Serbia. (The Telegraph, July 10)
The Muslim-led BiH government accuses the autonomous Bosnian Serb government—which still controls Srebrenica—of harassing survivors of the genocide. As the anniversary approached, the official BiH website reported that the Serb Republic police had issued orders for four Muslim laborers—all survivors—hired to maintain the Potocari cemetery to report for interrogation. The investigation apparently concerns banners left on graves by survivors supporting the BiH World Court genocide case against Serbia. Said the BiH statement: “The police of Republika Srpska that committed the genocide is now intimidating the very survivors of the 1995 Genocide for reminding the world of the role of Serbia and police of the Republika Srpska in the Genocide.”
The Association of Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja (Majke Srebrenice i Podrinja) has waged a political struggle with Serb Republic authorities for their right to hold funeral services at Potocari. The Serb Republic has especially objected to the raising of BiH flags at the resting places—despite the fact that Srebrenica and the rest of the Serb Republic are officially within Bosnia and Herzegovina, which holds the country’s UN seat. (BiH Online Newsletter, June 19)
See our last post on Bosnia and the Srebrenica massacre.