By Admir Muslimovic and Filip Rudic
Twelve Bosnian Serbs convicted of genocide have served their sentences and been released – some have returned to live in places where the massacres happened, while others continue to deny that Srebrenica was genocide.
When the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres is commemorated on Tuesday, 12 people who were convicted of responsibility for genocide will not be spending the day in prison cells.
Having served their sentences and been released, most of them are now retired and live in either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia – some of them in places where the massacres took place in July 1995, and where survivors and victims’ families are able to see them walking freely in the streets.
Vinko Pandurevic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic have all completed the jail terms they were given by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Pandurevic, a former Bosnian Serb Army officer, was sentenced to 13 years for committing crimes in Srebrenica. Following his early release in 2015, he now lives in Belgrade with his wife and sons.
Pandurevic told BIRN that the Hague Tribunal’s verdict made it impossible for him to get a job as a university lecturer.
“Some faculties are reluctant to accept people with my background; they are afraid that an NGO or a journalist might say that someone with my ‘burden’ is unfit to teach students,” he said.
Other than that, he and his family have had no problems in Serbia as a result of his conviction, he added.
Pandurevic is currently active in the Club of Serbian Generals and Admirals and the Oath to the Fatherland Association, which brings together people from the Republika Srpska area of Bosnia and the former Republic of Serbian Krajina wartime statelet in Croatia who now live in Serbia.
Since his release, Pandurevic has also published several books on politics and the Bosnian war, and has now written a new book about his experience as a inmate at the Hague Tribunal’s detention unit, which is currently being reviewed before publication.
Despite his conviction, Pandurevic denies that Srebrenica was an act of genocide.
He also believes that the war in former Yugoslavia was inevitable, and that the outcome could not have been significantly different.
When asked if he would do anything differently with the benefit of hindsight, Pandurevic responded that he believes that his actions during the war were correct.
“The way I saw my duties, and the stance I took towards the enemy and our own forces, was right, in my judgment,” he said.
Meanwhile Ljubomir Borovcanin, the former deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb interior ministry’s Special Brigade, was sentenced to 17 years in prison and released from jail in Denmark in August last year.
He is now retired and lives in Bijeljina in Bosnia with his wife and sons, and writes political and security analyses for the online journal of the Russia-based Strategic Culture Foundation, which has an outlet in Serbia.
Vidoje Blagojevic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Bratunac Brigade, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and served his sentence in Norway.
He now lives in a rented apartment in Banja Luka in Bosnia and is a military pensioner.
Dragan Jokic, the former head of the engineering section of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornik Brigade, was sentenced to nine years in jail and served his sentence in Austria.
He and his family currently live in Zvornik and is also military pensioner, receiving benefits for a retired officer of the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The identities of three of the freed Hague Tribunal convicts have been changed in order to protect them after their release.
One of them, former Bosnian Serb Army soldier Drazen Erdemovic, admitted that he participated in the shooting of 1,000 and 1,200 Bosniaks from Srebrenica in Branjevo in July 1995. The shooting went on for six hours, he said.
Erdemovic finished serving his five-year sentence 17 years ago and now lives in Europe; he has also appeared as a defence witness at the trial of former Bosnian Serb Army commander Ratko Mladic.
Momir Nikolic, the former assistant commander for security and intelligence affairs of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Bratunac Brigade, is the only one who has admitted involvement in the operation to organise the systematic killing of more than 7,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica and the deportation of women and children.
Three years ago, he was released from prison in Finland, where he served his 20-year sentence, and his identity was partially changed so that when he is living outside Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia, he uses a different name.
Nikolic is retired. He frequently visits his mother at their family house in Bratunac, where he was born. He is currently writing two books, one of which focuses on military operations in the Srebrenica area, while the other one is about the political aspects of the fall of Yugoslavia.
Besides their homes in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he and his family also have a residence in Sweden.
Nikolic is just one of many perpetrators who survivors of the massacres and relatives of the Bosniaks from Srebrenica who were killed can see in the places where the killings took place.
“I meet the criminals in Srebrenica all the time,” the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, Hajra Catic, told BIRN.
“Around 400 people who participated in the genocide in one way or another are currently employed in police structures and state institutions. We have lists of those people. Some are even university professors,” Catic claimed. “Victims cannot be satisfied with such things. They will never stop caring.”
Meanwhile Dragan Obrenovic’s identity was also changed after the Hague Tribunal offered him protection after his release. The former chief of headquarters and deputy commander of the First Zvornic Infantry Brigade with the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
After doing his jail time in Norway, he continues to live abroad with his family.
Back to Bratunac
Five Srebrenica convicts who were jailed by the Bosnian state court – Milivoje Cirkovic, Zoran Kusic, Vaso Todorovic, Marko Boskic and Mladen Blagojevic – have also been released after completing their time in jail.
Cirkovic, who worked at the Bosnian Serb interior ministry’s Jahorina Training Centre during the war, returned to his homeland, Serbia, after agreeing a plea bargain and serving his five-year sentence. He now works as a craftsman at his family estate.
Kusic, who also served at the Jahorina Training Centre, was sentenced to five years in prison too. BIRN has not been able to establish his current whereabouts or occupation.
Boskic, a former member of the 10th Reconnaissance Squad of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, was jailed for ten years.
He has now served his sentence, but BIRN has not been able to get any information about his place of residence or occupation either.
Todorovic, a former member of the Sekovici Special Police Squad who was sentenced to six years after signing a guilt admission agreement, now lives in the Bratunac area.
After having served his seven-year sentence, Blagojevic, a former military policeman with the Bosnian Serb Army’s Bratunac Brigade, returned to the United States, from where he had been extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina for having given false data to the US authorities about his role in the Bosnian Serb military during the war.
The victims’ view
The issue of Srebrenica convicts returning to the places where their crimes were committed has caused disquiet among Bosniak victims’ organisations.
Mediha Smajic, a journalist from Srebrenica, thinks that the return of released war-crimes convicts to the Srebrenica, Zvornik and Bratunac areas, where the massacres took place in 1995, reopens old wounds.
“Their presence in the places where they committed crimes causes harm to victims and [post-war] returnees, who they meet on a daily basis,” she argued.
The acceptance of the convicts by local Serb communities is also a source of unease, she added.
“People must live together, but who belongs where should be defined. I am saying this for the sake of future generations, who should lead normal lives,” she said.
Bosnian sociologist Ivan Sijakovic pointed out however that “the victims feel uncomfortable, but there is nothing we can do about it” because there are no legal restrictions on convicted war criminals’ reintegration into society.
Moral issues aside, Sijakovic explained, there is nothing to prevent convicts who have been released from returning to live near the scene of their crimes.
“From the legal point of view, after serving their sentences, people can live wherever they want,” he said.