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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 139-140 > Text



After Conviction in the Srebrenica Seven Trial


By Bojana Oprijan Ilic

"The scope and the nature of the operation of killing resulting in an astounding number of deaths, the systematic and organized manner in which it was carried out, targeting and relentless persecution of victims and indisputable intention - submitted in evidence - to eliminate every male Bosnian Muslim, who was either arrested or surrendered himself, testify of genocide prove beyond any doubt." That was how presiding judge Carmel Agius explained, inter alia, the sentences to seven high-ranking commanders of Republika Srpska Army /VRS/ accused of war crimes, including genocide in Srebrenica. On June 10, 2010, Judge Agius ruled the biggest sentences for the Srebrenica crime so far: VRS officers Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara received life sentences.

The Trial Chamber rendered another five VRS officers guilty of the Srebrenica crime in the summer of 1995 resulting in the murder of some 7,000 Bosniaks. Lt. Colonel Popovic /53/ - the head of the security of the Drina corps at the time - and Col. Beara, performing the same duty in VRS headquarters, were sentenced for "a genocidal plan" to exterminate the arrested Muslims as an ethnic group, the plan they had executed by shooting them. The tribunal sentenced Drago Nikolic /53/, former security officer of the Zvornik brigade, to 35-year imprisonment for conspiracy to commit genocide. According to the ruling, Ljubomir Borovcanin was not guilty of genocide but of crimes against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war, and as such sentenced to 17 years in prison. Vinko Pandurevic /51/, ex-commander of Zvornik brigade, was sentenced to 13-year imprisonment for conspiracy to commit genocide, persecutions, forcible transfer and deportation. Radivoje Miletic /63/, Ratko Mladic's deputy, was rendered guilty of murder, persecutions and forcible transfer of people from Srebrenica and Zepa and sentenced to 19 years in prison. Finally, Milan Gvero /73/ another deputy of Mladic, "earned" five years in prison for persecutions of Muslims.

This has been the largest trial conducted by the ICTY to date. The case started in July 2006, lasted 425 days and heard over 300 witnesses: 182 for the prosecution and 132 for the defense. According to the indictment, participants in the two joint criminal enterprises were Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, Radisav Krstic and Zdravko Tolimir. The first sentence for complicity in genocide had been rendered to General Radislav Krstic, who was later on sentenced on appeal to 35 years in prison.


Indisputable guilt evidenced in the first instance

Apart from punishing and individualizing crimes, the sentences in the case of "Mladic's Seven" are significant in other segments as well. Firstly, Krstic was sentenced for complicity in genocide, whereas the indictment against high-ranking VRS officers is explicit about their direct responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide rather than just for complicity. In other words, on the ground of new evidence and facts, the tribunal has obviously taken a stronger stance about qualification of the Srebrenica crime than in the case of General Krstic. Reading the verdicts on Popovic and Beara, rendering them life sentences, the presiding judge was quite clear about it. "For all these reasons, the Trial Chamber declares you, Vujadin Popovic, guilty of genocide, extermination and crime against humanity, violations of laws and customs of war and persecutions. Bearing in mind the severity of the crimes committed and your indisputable responsibility, the Trial Chamber takes that the only adequate punishment is life sentence," said Carmel Agius. It should be noted that the indictment against former VRS officers identified them as participants in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently and violently exterminate Bosniak population in Srebrenica and Zepa.

So, after the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the nature of the crime committed in these two enclaves (a judgment interpreted in a variety of ways in Belgrade) and the sentenced rendered to Gen. Krstic, the trial of seven commanders of the army of Bosnian Serbs explicitly identified those responsible for the Srebrenica massacre and its executioners. It is to be expected that the defense would appeal against these sentences and that the decision by ITCY Appellate Chamber could be somewhat different. But, Dusan Ignjatovic, director of the Office of the National Council for Cooperation with ITCY, said not long ago, "It is obvious that both the International Court of Justice and the Tribunal in The Hague decided that genocide against Bosniak population was committed in July 1995. Like it or not, it would be hard to change such qualification."


Prosecution satisfied, mothers embittered

The ICTY Prosecution welcomed the sentence rendered to three VRS officers for genocide and complicity in genocide against Muslims in Srebrenica, and the verdict ruled to another four for the crimes committed in this area. "The Prosecution welcomes the sentence ruled in the case against Vujadin Popovic et al. by which the Trial Chamber confirmed that in July 1995 Bosnian Serbs' forces committed genocide against Muslims in Srebrenica," said Olga Kavran, spokesperson for the ITCY Prosecution Office. "The Prosecution is pleased that the Trial Chamber found all the seven accused officers guilty on the ground of evidence the Prosecution has submitted."

On the other hand, the organization "Mothers of Srebrenica" considers the verdict "scandalous," notably in the case of defendants Milan Gvero, Vinko Pandurovic, Radivoje Miletic and Ljubomir Borovcanin sentenced to 5-19 years in prison. According to the organization's chairwoman, Hatidza Mehmedovic, even life sentences would satisfy the survived. "On July 11 we shall bury our decapitated and handless children. I will bury my two sons and my husband," said Mehmedovic who has searched mass graves for their bodies for 15 years.

Unfortunately, ICTY ruling rendered to the executioners in Srebrenica finds a different echo among some Serbian (political) elites. So, the Serb Radical Party called it the "first bitter pill" of the adoption of the Srebrenica Declaration by the Serbian Parliament. MPs from the Unified Serbia put across a similar message. For them, the ruling is "yet another proof that The Hague tribunal is not a proper court but a political body."

On the other hand, Democratic Party reacted by releasing that it had "never questioned or reconsidered the decisions by the tribunal in The Hague," adding that it was on its initiative that the declaration condemning the Srebrenica crime had been adopted. MP from the Social Democratic Party, Meho Omerovic, said "The sentences pronounced by the tribunal in The Hague remind of the historical fact about the biggest crime committed in Europe after World War II in Srebrenica."

How many more sentences, proofs, pieces of evidence, punishments and, above all, afterthoughts are needed to stir up conscience of at least the majority of citizens of Serbia? There is not telling. Conscience is what a number of non-governmental organizations have been insisting on, warning that evil will sustain unless we condemn it and thus "drive out" to the past. The Humanitarian Law Fund now expects trials for the Srebrenica genocide before domestic courts. The organization has already pressed charges against the members of the 10th Subversive Platoon of VRS, who were under Ratko Mladic's command and suspected of having murdered 1,500 people. Will a possible punishment be really meted out "in the name of the people?"


NGOs: Arrest of Mladic Serbia's Moral Debt

After the sentence meted out to seven VRS officers, more than 20 NGOs in Serbia warned that Serbia was morally obliged to arrest Ratko Mladic, "a main perpetrator of genocide in Srebrenica." "With such a moral dept Serbia cannot make progress," quotes their release. "New generations are hostages to this debt and the government's unwillingness to meet its obligation towards The Hague. But, above all, to meet its obligation towards victims and Serbia's future," adds the release. Hence, NGOs called on the Serbian government to arrest Mladic without delay and extradite him to ICTY. "Any further postponement only further discredits the government and impairs Serbia's chances for presenting itself to the world as country responsible for its actions, present and past alike," released NGOs, adding "The arrest of Ratko Mladic will not make the Srebrenica crime less atrocious but will demonstrate Serbia's sensitivity for and empathy with the victim awaiting for justice to be done. Last but not least, Serbia would thus demonstrate its responsibility for its own future."

Reminding of the sentences for genocide pronounced by international court, domestic NGOs underlined that the European Parliament had also adopted a declaration proclaiming July 11 Srebrenica Remembrance Day. Serbia has only recently paid respect to the ruling by the International Court of Justice and adopted the Declaration on Condemnation of the Crime in Srebrenica, whereby it admitted its responsibility, says the release. "That is a major step towards recognition of the crime, though almost senseless without the arrest of Ratko Mladic," insisted NGOs.

The organizations signing the release are Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Fund for an Open Society, Civil Initiatives, Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina, Center for Cultural Decontamination, Incest Trauma Center, etc.



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