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27 May 2013
Analysis

Clarification of the Large Number of Crimes

Marija Taušan BIRN BiH Sarajevo

Millions of collected documents, 4,500 witnesses examined, 161 indictees and 69 convicts are some of the factual indicators of 20 years of work at The Hague Tribunal.

The court was established by the United Nations Security Council on May 25, 1993, as the first international court for war crimes after the post-Second World War courts in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

Establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is based in The Hague, was preceded by reports of mass atrocities committed first in Croatia and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

More than 7,000 days of trials were held before The Tribunal, and 1,500,000 transcripts of court proceedings were compiled. Out of 161 indictees, 69 were convicted, 18 acquitted and 25 are currently on trial, 13 were forwarded to the national courts, and proceedings were terminated against 36 persons due to death or the withdrawal of the indictment.

The court says that their main achievements are that leaders were held accountable, that there has been justice for the victims, the opportunity to hear the voice of the victims, the establishment of the facts and the development of international law.
 
In accordance with the strategy for ending its work, all investigations by the Tribunal were to be completed by 2004. The court proceedings are on-going in another 11 cases and the Tribunal estimates that all trials will be finally completed by July 2016.

While The Tribunal succeeded in resolving a number of crimes, many victims in the former Yugoslavia are still awaiting court justice.

Their expectations have turned to national courts. The killing of 16 civilians on November 15, 1991, in the Croatian village of Kostrici, near Hrvatska Kostajnica, is one of the many unexplored crimes.

”When the madness began, my parents and the villagers did not consider it necessary to flee regardless of the bad news. They thought that nobody will harm them, because they were elderly and infirm. However in November 1991, on one early morning, arson, shootings and killings happened in this village. All people were killed in their homes, excerpt three women who were early risers and who were killed on the road, as they came out of the house,” says Mirjana Vujcic.

Her mother and father, sister, brother-in-law and their two children, who were three and five years old, were killed in that crime. Her father and mother were found dead in the house, while the location of the remains of other family members is still unknown.

Investigations without judicial epilogue are still ongoing for crimes in Mrkonjic Grad. There, 181 victims of crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in autumn 1995 were found in one mass grave.

“On October 10, while fleeing Mrkonjic Grad, I lost my father Dusan Crncevic, my brother Slobodan Crncevic and my uncle Milorad Crncevic. I found my father near the front line. He was killed from a firearm along with three neighbours, and I found my brother and uncle in a mass grave. My brother’s head was smashed, probably with a blunt object, and we have identified him with a fingerprint, and uncle Milorad was burned and his identification was through dental records,” recalls Ljiljana Peric.

Enes Eminic, who is from Sanski Most, says that there were more than 800 civilian casualties in this city during the war. The Hague Tribunal prosecuted political and military leaders for crimes committed in this area, but as Eminic points out, until now, no one of the direct perpetrators has been brought to justice.
His father was killed with 16 other men after being taken from his home to the police station.

“He was killed on one old, regional, tarcmac road that leads to Kljuc, which is quite an apt place for such actions. They massacred, slaughtered 17 persons in one recess, including my father,” says Eminic.
Recognition of these crimes would be significant for all the families of those killed.

“It would mean a lot. Maybe people would then take a different view in not generalising the perpetrators and by saying that a whole nation is to blame. It’s not an entire nation who is guilty, I know that. But those individuals who did it, should be sentenced and that would be very important,” says Vujcic.
 
Eminic points out that the truth remains the only satisfaction to victims of crimes and their families.
“For me, a nation is not to blame but the individuals, and these individuals should be sentenced because without verdicts on the basis of documentary evidence there will be no reconciliation or co-existence,” says Eminic.

Unlike Vujicic and Peric, Eminic thanks to surviving witnesses, found out who was responsible for the taking away and death of his father. It is unclear to him why this crime has not been prosecuted, especially since the investigation was conducted a long time ago and the evidence had been gathered.

Eminic emphasises that a key witness in this case, a survivor of the massacre, is seriously ill and has appealed to the investigative authorities to do their job.

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