Category Archives: Justice

Mladic arrested !

I am in Kozarac now,  a place in the municipality of Prijedor in North-west Bosnia which was razed to the ground in May 1992, and the totality of its non-Serb population deported, imprisoned or killed. I went today for a commemoration at  one of the concentration camps set up at the time to ‘receive’ the non-Serb population of this area, Trnopolje. There I could see in people’s faces the pain. i’ve seen that pain elsewhere in Bosnia, but today it struck me more than it usually does, I don’t know why.

But then I came back to Kozarac and got the news. Tears in everyone’s eyes, not so much of joy, but of surprise…a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed has come.

We turn on the tv, and there is Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, confirming the arrest live, first in Serbian, then in English. There, it’s truth! Now we can believe it. We feel happy, my friend and I, both outsiders, both foreigners. We feel happy and excited, but our excitement is shared by the people here only for a brief moment.

Photo, this morning, commemoration organized in front of the concentration camp of Trnopolje, in the municipality of Prijedor, by the Victims’ Associations  of Kozarac and Prijedor, and the ngo’s Izvor and Srecem do mira…

Update:

After the initial disbelief, then the joy that came with the confirmation of the news, the people of Kozarac simply got on with their lives as they do everyday. As if none of this was actually real. The contrast with the frenzy this arrest is causing in the media, on Facebook, on Twitter, could not be more striking. The contrast is such that I get confused. What is the real world, what is the virtual world, why do I seem more excited about this than these people who were once deported, whose homes were destroyed, their family members and friends killed, or themselves mistreated, abused, who knows what each of them went through… My excitement went away now. What does it mean, this quietude? It means at the very least that the arrest of one of the major responsibles for the tragedy that befell on Bosnia 19 years ago is not a matter for rejoicing.

What is there to expect then? I am told meanwhile that the same reaction was observed here when Karadzic was arrested. What is there to expect? The facts about what happened in the municipality of Prijedor 19 years ago are clear enough. The ICTY and the war crimes chamber in the State court in Sarajevo have produced enough convictions for people not to have many illusions about the benefits of justice in their lives.

This is not to mean that justice is not important. It is, for every single person I spoke to in this community. That is why many of them made the sacrifice of witnessing at the different courts, thus offering their contribution to the discovery of the truth.

But still, despite everything that everybody knows, since in August 6th 1992 Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams came here and the whole world heard for the first time this almost unpronounceable word, Trnopolje, Tr-no-po-lje (yes even now, 6 years after I started to learn this language once known as serbo-croatian and which I now call Bosnian, I still find it hard to pronounce it, and cannot avoid putting the accent on the wrong syllable)… despite what we all saw then, despite the UN Prijedor Report, despite the convictions at the Hague and in Sarajevo, despite the ITN versus LM libel case in the UK, despite all of this, despite the fact that the truth is established and accessible, there isn’t even a memorial plaque in Trnopolje acknowledging that non-Serbs were imprisoned there, mistreated there, raped there, and then all of those who were not killed there were sent other camps, or to exile.

In this place, where a school was turned into a concentration camp and then once again into a school, there is, however, a monument to the fallen soldiers of Trnopolje. Yes, a memorial to Mladic’s soldiers stands there, through which the children pass everyday on their way to school. It goes without saying that this monument is a serious obstacle to reconciliation in this region.

So, in the end, maybe this is one of the reasons why there is no more than a quiet satisfaction here in Kozarac, this place that stands as a rare example of success on the minority return movement. Whatever justice could promise them, it has already been delivered. Now it is up to politics to do the rest. It is for political responsibles to acknowledge the truth that justice has already revealed, and in Prijedor that is a long way from happening. This is is clear not only through the case of the logor Trnopolje, but also through the case of the concentration camp of Omarska. which was set up on a complex of buildings belonging to an iron mining company, which was reverted to its prior use after the war ended and is now property of the greatest multinational of steel and iron, Mittal Arcelor.

And this leads us to the political impact of this arrest. But that will wait for another post.

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Filed under Bosnia, Justice, Nationalism, Serbia, Uncategorized

Dobrovoljacka Street case: can Serbia provide a fair trial?

The arrest of Ejup Ganic in London last Monday, 1st of March, could not have happened in a more symbolically charged moment: exactly 18 years after the independence of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the same day when Radovan Karadzic was presenting, at the ICTY, his own version of the Bosnian war, while in Serbia a debate is ongoing about a parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica.

While the coincidence of dates between the Independence day and Karadzic’s opening defence statement at the Hague should be seen as a ‘lucky strike’ for the Serb authorities, this case cannot be reduced to a mere diversion, which succeeded in overshadowing Karadzic’s statement upon the public opinion, in Serbia and in Bosnia, as well as internationally.  The significance of Ganic’s case is that it represents an attempt to lend credibility to the absurd claim that in Bosnia the Serbs were conducting a defensive war. Although the case against him is not likely to have any impact on the outcome of Karazic’s trial, it will certainly have a significant impact on the debate in Serbia about the parliamentary resolution about Srebrenica, and most importantly, on the relations between Serbia and Bosnia and the on the stability of Bosnia, where general elections are to be held next October.

Ejup Ganic was arrested by the British authorities at the demand of Serbia, which issued an arrest warrant against Ganic and 17 other persons, conspiracy to murder, in the Dobrovoljacka Street case, about the attack against a JNA column in Sarajevo, on 3 May 1992.

This incident occurred a month after the beginning of the aggression against the newly independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, carried out in the initial stage by the JNA, and it happened during an extremely tense moment. The day before, the JNA had launched an offensive against Sarajevo, which was halted by the Territorial Defence. The JNA in turn kidnapped the President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, at the airport which was under its control (for a more detailed description of the context surrounding the Dobrovoljacka Street incident, please click here). At the time of the incident, Sarajevo was already under siege for almost a month, and it remained besieged by Serb forces until February 1996, after the end of the war.

Although the context of the incident is well known, there is some uncertainty about the attack of the column, which was withdrawing from Sarajevo, under an agreement brokered by the UN in exchange for the release of Alija Izetbegovic. It is not established whether the attack was spontaneous, as Jovan Divjak, then deputy commander of the Territorial Defence, and who was himself present at the scene, declares, or whether it was launched by superior orders, emanating, as the Prosecution of the Special Court for war crimes of the Republic of Serbia alleges, from the Presidency of Bosnia itself, in which Ejup Ganic was serving as acting President, due to the kidnap of Izetbegovic.

Ejup Ganic’s arrest, and the warrant against 17 other Bosnian personalities reveals how, 18 years after the beginning of the war, battles over the interpretation of its causes and impact of the war in Bosnia are being fought, with the judiciary as one of its most important battlefields.

It has been argued by many observers that this arrest is a clear example of the abuse of justice for political purposes. I agree with such assessment, but I don’t think it’s enough to merely state it, as it can be argued against it:

  1. that under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, it is legitimate on the part of the Serbian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes to launch an investigation on this case, and that Serbia is now a democratic state able to offer a fair trial;
  2. that, with the current government, Serbia seems to be finally coming to terms with the past, with the arrest and extradition of Radovan Karadzic, and now the debate about a parliamentary resolution condemning the Massacre of Srebrenica as evidence of such process; while the Special Prosecutor has been investigating and prosecuting cases involving perpetrators who are Serb citizens.
  3. Finally, it can also be argued that both the Prosecutor and the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court are autonomous from political power, and that we should resist analysing the behaviour of states as if they were monolithic, homogeneous entities, because they’re not.

Starting from the third point, it is important to note that, although the state is certainly not an uniform creature, it is also true that when people in different positions of power share the same mind-set and the same perception of national interests, it is logic consequence that their values make their actions converge for an outcome that seeks to reinforce such mind-set, confirm those shared values and contribute to the perceived national interest.

Indeed, a closer analysis reveals that what is in fact happening is that the state of denial in which post-Milosevic Serbia has lived is being replaced by a more subtle trend, launched after the controversial ruling of the International Court of Justice, in 2007, absolved Serbia of the charge of genocide, merely condemning it for failing to take measures to prevent the genocidal act occurred in Srebrenica and for failing to punish genocide by failing to arrest individuals indicted for war crimes by the ICTY, and exempting the Serb state for any financial compensation towards Bosnia. The ICJ ruling has both released Serbia from the burden of guilt and, as Sonja Biserko and Edina Becirevic have stated, provided “a frame for Serbia to stick to”, which is “evident in domestic courts speaking with one voice that Serbia and its army have never had anything to do in Bosnia.”

This trend is the product of a significant communion in the way the current ruling elite in Serbia, the Special Prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, and the court’s judges are dealing with the legacy of the Bosnian war, and consists basically in responding to internationally imposed constraints linked to the interest in joining the European Union by abandoning, on the one hand, the strategy of denial of the Massacre of Srebrenica, while, on the other hand, highlighting Serb victimhood, which results in the establishment of an apparent moral equivalence that will preserve the Serb national narrative of the Bosnian war, depicted as a Bosnian civil war in which the Bosnian Serbs were primarily acting in self-defence. This trend is also shared by the ruling elite in Republika Srpska, as is clear, among other things, by the term officially used there to define the war: Defensive-Fatherland war (odbrambeno-otadžbinski rat).

In this narrative, Serbia, as a state, is both exempted from any responsibility in the war, which represents the continuation of Milosevic’s argument at the time; and portrayed as the perennial protector of the Serbs, independently of where they live. Indeed, it is common practice that the Interior Ministry of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska reports, not to the Bosnian Special Prosecutor for War Crimes, but to his Serbian counterpart, on grounds that the Bosnians are not dully investigating crimes in which the Serbs were the victims (this is confirmed by the Serbian Special Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic in this interview).

It is in this context that the process against Ejup Ganic should be seen. The President of Serbia himself confirmed the link:

“I believe that the Serbian parliament will soon adopt a resolution on Srebrenica and it would be a great mistake if only the ruling majority were to vote for it,” Tadić said.

He remarked that all the dilemmas on whether one or two resolutions should be adopted and whether it was a genocide or a crime “have missed the point,” which is to say that the people are not to blame.

“Serbia must distance itself from that crime, because there were also mass crimes against the Serbs,” said Tadić.

The president added that the Serbian court system has proven that it can process war crimes and prosecute its own citizens who participated in them, like for example the trial against members of the Scorpions, a paramilitary unit that was involved in the Srebrenica massacre, but that it does not want to take over every trial.(B92, 7 March 2010) (the second resolution mentioned by Tadic is supposed to specifically condemn the crimes committed against Serbs).

The ability of Serbia’s courts to provide a fair trial is, however, denied by the outcome of a number of war crimes trials recently held at the Special Court. In April 2009, the Humanitarian Law Centre, which has been systematically monitoring all war crimes trials, published a report (Trials for war crimes and ethnically and politically motivated crimes in post-Yugoslav countries), in which it indicates important flaws:

The Supreme Court of Serbia continues with the practice of setting aside first-in stance convictions for war crimes, significantly reducing terms of imprisonment of those convicted and affirming acquittals, which gives rise to the suspicion that the reason behind these decisions may be political.

This tendency, which is restricted to defendants of Serb nationality, is reinforced by the tendency by the Trial Chamber to benefit Serb defendants with mitigating circumstances invoked to reduce the time of their sentences, despite the seriousness of the crimes involved.

Referring to the Skorpions’ case, mentioned above by Boris Tadic, the report states that:

In 2008, the Supreme Court reduced the term of imprisonment of the Scorpions member Branislav Medić from 20 to 15 years although he was sentenced for murdering at least two Bosniaks and active participation in the execution of all six captives. The Supreme Court affirmed the acquittal of Aleksandar Vukov, another member of the Scorpions unit, despite the fact that evidence heard during the proceedings conclusively proved his criminal responsibility. Since the Supreme Court is the highest last instance to decide upon prosecution appeals concerning the responsibility of the defendants, with all appeals being heard by one single chamber, always made up of the same justices, there is a real risk of arbitrariness in delivering final court rulings (p. 94).

And about the Bytyci brothers’ case:

This trial is on the whole very unusual. Indicted were some accessories that had a secondary role in the commission of the crime and no charges were brought against the immediate perpetrators, co-perpetrators, true helpers and those who gave orders (abettors). All these point to the fact that the whole procedure was initiated and organized in order to fulfil, at least to some extent, the request of the American administration that the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, American citizens, be prosecuted. In the final outcome, this trial served to protect some high-ranking officials of the Serbian MUP from criminal responsibility and mock justice“. (p. 99)

Other misconducts have consisted in randomly ordering the psychiatrical assessment of witnesses whose testimony could contribute to the conviction of the (Serb) defendants, as in the Suva Reka case:

complying with the authority and legal opinion of the Supreme Court, the trial chamber in the Suva Reka case ordered the psychiatric assessment of a significant number of witnesses, including all those who were ready to give full account of what they saw and heard about the incident which is the subject-matter of the indictment. Approximately 100 of the witnesses examined by the court said they had no knowledge about the incident the defendants are charged with, although the incident resulted in 49 people killed and took place in broad daylight [12:00 no on], in the very center of a very small town, in the immediate vicinity of the institutions where witnesses happened to be at the time of the incident. The court did not seek the psychiatric opinion on any of these witnesses, but of those witnesses who were willing to say in court what they had seen and heard, which is a non sense and absurd.” (p. 95)

Furthermore, the defence of non-Serb defendants is seriously impaired by the reluctance of potential defence witnesses to come to Serbia to testify, as was clear on the Tuzla Column case. The defence witness have funded reasons to fear being themselves arrested and tried, bearing in mind the  bad-faith with which Serbia is using the international and regional mechanisms of police and judiciary cooperation.

The Tuzla Column case is a very relevant precedent, in what regards the case here in appreciation, the Dobrovoljacka Street case. The defendant, Ilija Jurisic, was convicted to 12 years for ordering the attack against the JNA convoy in May 1992, which resulted in 51 deaths. According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, guilt was not established beyond reasonably doubt.

Justice is usually represented as a blindfolded woman wearing a sword on her right hand and a weighing scale on her left hand. In Serbia, however, an accurate portrait of Lady Justice would include only the sword. This is why  Ejup Ganic’s extradition to Serbia would constitute a gross injustice.

This brief analysis can only lead us to the conclusion that in Serbia, transitional justice is being subverted to such an extent that, instead of contributing to a wider process of regional reconciliation, it is, on the contrary working towards deepening the tensions in Bosnia. The possible approval by the Serbian parliament of a resolution about Srebrenica cannot be therefore interpreted as a sign that Serbia is finally coming to terms with its recent past, but rather as a merely tactical move towards European Union accession. This, in turn, should lead us to raise important questions about the prospect of Serbia’s European integration.

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Filed under Bosnia, EU, Justice, Serbia, Uncategorized, War

DENIAL OF JUSTICE: The case of Hasan Nuhanović.

In June I posted a press release about the law suit against the dutch state by a former translator, Hasan Nuhanović, whose family was handed to the serbs by the UN DutchBat.

The outcome of the case of Hasan Nuhanović against the dutch state was known today:

Concluding a six-year case, the Hague District Court said on Wednesday that the Dutch government could not be deemed responsible as its peacekeepers in Bosnia had been operating under UN command.

“The state cannot be held responsible for any breach of contract or wrongful act committed by Dutchbat [the Dutch military],” the ruling said.

“Neither is the state liable for wrongful action taken by those in charge of the armed forces or members of the national government.”

Two months ago, a similar case against the UN in a dutch court was rejected, due to the fact that the UN has the privilege of immunity:

A Dutch court has ruled that it is unable to hear a case brought against the UN by relatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

The court ruled that UN immunity, enshrined in its charter, meant it could not be prosecuted by any state.

But it said a civil case against the Dutch state, over its troops’ failure to protect civilians, could proceed.

The status of immunity, which the text from the BBC incorrectly says to be enshrined in its charter, is a consequence of the application of the doctrine of implicit competences to international organizations. This doctrine states that an International Organization must be able to use not only the powers explicitly  predicted in their constitutive treaties, but also the necessary powers to be able to fulfill the goals to which it was created.

This was recognized by the International Court of Justice in 1949, in the case called “Reparation for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations“, after the assassination of the UN mediator in Palestine, Folke Bernardotte. The ICJ recognized that the UN has international juridical personality, and that its agents benifict from priviledges and immunities paralel to those that diplomats and other state officials have.

These privileges and immunities were granted to make sure that the UN was granted with a level of autonomy that allowed it to fulfil its goals, which are, above all, the goal of preserving peace and security.

It was supposedly to fulfil the goal of preserving peace and security that the ‘safe areas’ were created.

we all know how this ended…

But still, despite having totally failed in fulfilling the goals that legitimize the existence of the status of immunity,it is those legal mechanisms that are invoked to deny justice to the victims.

We are here upon a scandalous case of the spirit of justice being distorted. The victims cannot ask the UN for responsibilities, because the UN has immunity, but the dutch state cannot be  considered responsible because its military were acting under the UN.
The UN, which failed to protect the victims, is successful in protecting itself and its agents from those which it failed to protect, while not only the dutch government, but also the dutch judiciary system wash their own hands, dismissing their own responsibilities, not only towards the victims, but also towards the idea of justice itself.

All of it in the name of international peace and security…

…tasteless wall paintings, it seems that was the true mission of the dutch bat… thirteen years latter, the drawings are still there, and not the drawings. behind this wall is the room depicted on the photo above.

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Filed under Bosnia, International Law, Justice, Srebrenica

Serb hero in a new poster!

I saw the new version of the classic poster on the website of the Serbian NGO Youth Iniciative for Human Rights, and I couldn’t resist ‘stealing it’.

I love this kind of ideas.

I advise those who liked the poster to go to their site and click on the image…

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Filed under Genocide, Justice, Serbia

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Bringing the perpretrators of ideologically-motivated mass crimes to Justice

Radovan Karadzic made his appearence today at the ICTY where he listened to his indictment. This happened one day after two generals, Antonio Bussi, 82, and Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, former members of the military junta that between 1976 and 1983 terrorized Argentina, were sentenced to life imprisonment by an Argentinian tribunal

For many years, the families and friends of those whom they sent to death demanded justice. Too many people preferred to simply forget about it, but they kept demanding justice. The courage and dignity of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo always impressed me, and when I heard about the women from Srebrenica their example immediately came to my mind.

For 30 years they kept asking for justice, fighting oblivion, not allowing anyone to forget what the expression ‘Dirty War’ meant… and these were mostly simple uneducated women, whose strength came from their sense of justice and from the fact that, having already lost what most precious they had, intimidation and fear could not silence them.

…dirty war, ethnic cleansing, somebody invented these expressions, as I was writing them I noticed how they mirror each other. What do they have in common? Their fascist essence.

Last time I was in Serbia, a person with whom I had a very interesting conversation about the question of facing the past told me about a current that I didn’t know about, who is advancing the idea that the best choice is not to face the past at all. These people, who don’t consider themselves nationalists. Those who consider themselves nationalists don’t really deny the past, because in fact they are proud of it, they are just sorry that they didn’t go far enough.

This is an argument that is being discussed among so-called moderates, who are using the Spanish case as an example. It goes like this: look, Spain didn’t face the past, and that didn’t prevent the country from becoming a democracy and a wealthy and powerful country. I will not go into this question in detail now, I’ll just remind the readers that this an argument that reveals either ignorance or the wish to falsify the truth. Spain didn’t face the past because those who didn’t want such process to happened managed to prevent it for 30 years, but now the issue is finally being tacked. Here, here and here for more…(in castellan and galego, sorry for the non speakers, the english version in wikipedia is not updated, but here’s an article from the Guardian) (I will return to this subject latter).

Those who benefit from this kind of approach, not only in former Yugoslavia or Spain or Latin American, believe that time will work in their favour.  It does, but only if the voices of the victims is silenced or ignored.

The case of the Argentine generals proves that it doesn’t have to be like that. I believe there are valuable lessons to be drawn from this. Justice will never be entirely accomplished, but at least it will be harder to falsify the past.

(photos from BBC, what’s in common between these three men, besides the fact that they are monsters? they don’t scare anyone anymore)

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Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Justice, Serbia, Spain, Srebrenica, Violence, War

LETTER FROM BELGRADE

This is a letter I have just received from a colleague from Belgrade:
Dear all,
I would like to share with you one information that made me very happy!
Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnian Serbs during the war in Bosnia, indicted before the ICTY for variety of serious crimes, among other for the Srebrenica genocide, fugitive from justice for 12 years, has been arrested in Belgrade yesterday night.
During the press conference that was held a minute ago the high state officials of Serbia have stated that he was hiding in Belgrade, his identity was well hidden, he was working as the alternative medicine doctor in one Belgrade’s small doctor’s surgery (he was healing people ?!?). He was arrested in a bus when he was going to work.
I know that this all sounds a bit crazy, but it is true.
This story has 2 points:
1) Be careful in the future if you want to seek the advice from the alternative medicine doctor 🙂
2) Most important thing – the law enforcement bodies are usually very capable to do their work – it is the political will that is needed to confront the problem! That could equally be applied in the case of combating trafficking in human beings.
Warmest regards to everyone from Belgrade!

Andjelka

Andjelka, it’s just great to have friend like you. In the end it is people like you that will rescue Serbia’s lost dignity!

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Filed under Belgrade, Bosnia, Freedom, Genocide, Hope, International Law, Justice, Nationalism, Non-conformism, Serbia, Srebrenica

KARADZIC ARRESTED!

I am so HAPPPPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the news on B92.

Here in BBC.

Serbia seems to be finally chosing the future over the past! From Lisbon, I want to greet my serbian friends!

I have just returned from Belgrade, and there was indeed hope in the air. Something was changing. It’s easy to say so now, of course, but those who know me personally know that was my feeling. But as I was leaving, Jelena and I were talking about the possibility that Mladic could soon be arrested, but none of us thought that Karadzic would ever be arrested. It is an irony that it took SPS to get to power for this to happen, but it makes sense. They are cynicals, not true believers, and they will over-run any obstacle to their goals. Now Mladic and Karadic were the obstacles… Too bad for them.

I called my friends on the phone and we cryed of joy together! I am getting sentimental, what can I do?

It’s amazing how things work when there is political will to do so.

At this very moment I am on the phone with one of my friend from Belgrade. She is watching the news on TV and I am waiting for the latest developments. My friends are receiving SMS messages from all around, people are incredibly happy, and now I need to go to sleep because tomorrow there is plenty of work wayting for me, but how can one sleep with such excitement?

My thoughs now go to the little girl that photographed in Srebrenica. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I will print her photos and send them to her family’s address.

Good night Radovan, sweet dreams and srećni put to Holland!

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Hope, Justice, Serbia, Srebrenica