The Hague Tribunal and domestic courts have sentenced 45 people to 699 years in prison – plus three life sentences – for genocide, crimes against humanity and other offences against Bosniaks from Srebrenica in July 1995.
By Haris Rovcanin
The past 12 months have seen another landmark verdict convicting a senior Bosnian Serb figure of involvement in the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II – Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in November.
Pronouncing Mladic guilty of genocide in the first-instance verdict, the UN court in The Hague said that he had “genocidal intent to destroy Bosniaks in Srebrenica”.
According to the judges, the proof of this intent was Mladic’s message to the Bosniak residents of Srebrenica that they could “either survive or disappear”.
Like Radovan Karadzic, who was convicted of genocide in a first-instance verdict the previous year, Mladic has indicated that he will appeal.
As this year’s anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres approaches, courts in The Hague, Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb have handed down a total of 699 years of prison time – plus three life sentences – to defendants convicted of committing crimes after the fall of Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serb military and police, who killed more than 7,000 men and boys and deported over 40,000 women, children and elderly people.
The Bosnian state court has passed the most verdicts for Srebrenica crimes, sentencing 24 people; the Hague court has convicted 14 former members of the Bosnian Serb Army and police force, while the Serbian judiciary has convicted five people crimes in Srebrenica.
The Croatian judiciary meanwhile has convicted two former members of the Scorpions paramilitary unit.
The first verdict that established that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica was the one handed down in the case against the former deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps, Radislav Krstic, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for aiding and abetting the commission of genocide.
The Hague Tribunal concluded that the crime was planned at the top level and those most responsible were the staff of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters.
“The chamber calls the massacre in Srebrenica by its right name – genocide. Those responsible for it will bear the mark and it will serve as a warning to others who consider committing such a gruesome act,” judge Theodor Meron said as he read the verdict convicting Krstic.
Several killers admit their guilt
The Hague Tribunal has handed down life sentences for genocide to the former chief of security at the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, Ljubisa Beara, to its intelligence and security chief, Zdravko Tolimir, and to Vujadin Popovic, who was the chief of security of the army’s Drina Corps.
Beara died last year in a prison in Germany, where he was serving his sentence, and Tolimir died a year earlier while waiting to be sent to serve his sentence.
Former Bosnian Serb Army soldier Drazen Erdemovic was the first Srebrenica defendant to confess his guilt before the Hague Tribunal, admitting that he participated in the shooting of over 1,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica in Branjevo in July 1995. After he served his sentence and was released from prison, Erdemovic’s identity was changed to protect him.
Marko Boskic, a former member of the Bosnian Serb Army’s 10th Reconnaissance Squad, also admitted he was guilty of involvement in the Branjevo shootings and was sentenced to ten years in prison under a plea agreement with the Bosnian state court.
Boskic provided what prosecutors described as “significant information” on the executions at Branjevo and about other perpetrators, contributing to their identification and prosecution.
The Bosnian Serb Army Zvornik Brigade’s deputy commander Dragan Obrenovic also admitted he was guilty, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison by the Hague court. The judges found that Obrenovic knew that members of the brigade were taking part in organised massacres and the burial of the corpses.
“I am guilty of failing to do some things, of not protecting the prisoners, regardless of the fact that I was in a temporary position. I keep asking myself the question, what could I have done, and what I didn’t I do?” Obrenovic told the court.
“Thousands of innocent people died. There are graves, refugees, everything is destroyed and there is total unhappiness. I bear part of the responsibility for that,” he said.
‘Scorpions’ jailed in Belgrade and Zagreb
The Serbian judiciary has handed down only two verdicts for Srebrenica crimes, and none for genocide – Belgrade does not accept that the mass killings were genocide, despite the rulings of international courts.
In one case, a former member of the 10th Reconnaissance Detachment, Branko Gojkovic, was sentenced to ten years in prison after concluding a plea agreement with the Serbian prosecution.
The other case ended with four wartime members of the Scorpions paramilitary unit – Slobodan Medic, Branislav Medic, Pero Petrasevic and Aleksandar Medic – being sentenced to a total of 53 years in prison for killing six Srebrenica captives in a village near Trnovo in Bosnia.
They were incriminated by a video of the killings that was filmed by one of the Scorpions paramilitaries which was initially shown at Slobodan Milosevic’s trial in The Hague.
Croatia meanwhile sentenced former Scorpions fighters Milorad Momic and Slobodan Davidovic to 15 and 14 years in prison respectively for their involvement in killing the six captives from Srebrenica in Trnovo in 1995.
The main evidence in the Croatian cases was same video shot by one of the Scorpions, which the court found showed Davidovic giving orders and firing additional shots at the prisoners.
Proceedings in five more Srebrenica cases are currently ongoing at the Bosnian state court.
A total of 11 people are on trial in Sarajevo, including the former commanders of the Second and Sixth Battalions of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornik Brigade, Srecko Acimovic and Ostoja Stanisic.
Eight former members of Bosnian Serb police special forces are also on trial in Belgrade for murdering Bosniak civilians from Srebrenica at a warehouse in Kravica in July 1995.
But the proceedings at the Serbian court have been plagued by delays and one protected witness has claimed he has been threatened.
In The Hague meanwhile, Radovan Karadzic’s appeal against his conviction for the Srebrenica genocide and other crimes is expected to be heard later this year at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, with Ratko Mladic’s appeal to follow in 2019.