Jezik / Language:
10 July 2014

Genocide Convicts Serving 500 Years

Selma Ucanbarlic BIRN BiH Sarajevo
Thirty Bosnian Serbs have so far been jailed for a total of 568 years for genocide and other crimes in Srebrenica 19 years ago.
It was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II, and as the survivors mark the 19th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres, courts in The Hague and Sarajevo are still trying people accused of being involved in the killings.

After Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-declared ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, thousands of Bosniak locals, mostly women, children and elderly people, gathered at the nearby UN peacekeepers’ base to ask for protection, while the men fled through the woods, trying to escape to territory controlled by the Bosnian Army.

In the days that followed, more than 7,000 men and boys were captured, briefly detained, and then executed.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has so far convicted seven people for crimes related to Srebrenica sentencing them to a total of 118 years in prison. The longest sentence was given to Radislav Krstic, former deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps, who was jailed for 35 years for aiding and abetting genocide.

Explaining the Krstic verdict, the UN-backed court said that the mass executions followed a well-established pattern; prisoners were first detained in empty schools or warehouses and then taken to be killed.

“Usually, the execution fields were in isolated locations,” it said. “The prisoners were unarmed and, in many cases, steps had been taken to minimise resistance, such as blindfolding them, binding their wrists behind their backs with ligatures or removing their shoes. Once at the killing fields, the men were taken off the trucks in small groups, lined up and shot.”

Most of the execution sites were in territory controlled by the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornik Brigade. Its former deputy commander, Dragan Obrenovic, was sentenced to 17 years in prison after admitting that he was guilty.

The Hague Tribunal judges found that Obrenovic knew that members of his brigade were taking part in organised massacres and the burial of 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.

Homeland convictions

The Bosnian state court meanwhile has sentenced a total of 23 people to 450 years in prison for Srebrenica-related crimes.

One of those convicted is a former security officer with the Zvornik Brigade, Milorad Trbic, who was jailed for 30 years - the first person to be convicted of genocide.

“Trbic executed dozens of men, in order to intimidate, restrain and control the other prisoners. He consciously and willingly allowed the coordination of organised massacres,” the verdict said.

The longest sentence for crimes against humanity in Srebrenica was given to a former member of the Tenth Reconnaissance Division of the Bosnian Serb Army’s nain headquarters, Franc Kos, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing hundreds of Bosniaks at the Branjevo military farm on July 16, 1995.

Stanko Kojic, Vlastimir Golijan and Zoran Goronja were sentenced to a total of 77 years in prison alongside Kos for the same crime.   

The most lenient punishments were handed down to Milivoje Cirkovic and Zoran Kusic, former members of the Bosnian Serb police’s Jahorina Training Centre, both of whom were sentenced to five years in prison after they admitted killing a Bosniak prisoner.

Explaining the Kusic verdict, the court said that it paid special attention to the fact that the defendant “faced the consequences of his actions by admitting guilt”.

“This confession helps in determining the truth and helping reconciliation in these areas and the trial chamber believes that should affect the sentencing when dealing with guilt admissions,” it said.

A total of eight people have so far admitted to the Hague tribunal or the Bosnian State court that they were guilty ofcrimes in Srebrenica.

Drazen Erdemovic, a former member of the Tenth Reconnaissance Division at the Bosnian Serb Army’s main headquarters was the first to do so. Addressing the Hague judges, Erdemovic who was sentenced to five years for the Branjevo farm massacre, said that he was forced to take part in the killings and could do nothing to save the victims.

“I had to do it. Had I refused to do it, they would have killed me together with those people. When I refused to do it, they told me: 'If you feel sorry for them, join them and we shall kill you together with them,'” Erdemovic told the court.

Criminal code errors

The Bosnian state court was forced this year to reduce the length of the prison sentences in seven Srebrenica genocide-related verdicts after it was found that the wrong criminal code was used at the trials.

The verdict were quashed in cases where the tougher Bosnian criminal code was used in trials instead of the more lenient criminal code of the former Yugoslavia, which was in force at the time that the crimes were actually committed.

Milenko Trifunovic, Brano Dzinic, Aleksandar Radovanovic, Slobodan Jakovljevic and Branislav Medan – all convicted of killing about 1,000 Bosniaks in the village of Kravica near Bratunac on July 13, 1995 – had their sentences cut by eight to 13 years.

Petar Mitrovic and Zeljko Ivanovic, both convicted of assisting genocide, also had their sentences cut from 28 to 20 years and 24 to 20 years respectively.

Meanwhile the state court has so far acquitted 14 people of genocide and other crimes in Srebrenica, while the Hague Tribunal has acquitted one.

Over the next couple of years before it closes, the Hague Tribunal is expected to deliver verdicts in the cases of nine more former Bosnian Serb soldiers, while the trials of former military and political leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who are also accused of genocide, are also expected to come to a conclusion.

There are currently four people on trial for genocide in Srebrenica at the Bosnian court, while the Bosnian prosecution says it is still conducting investigations, and many more perpetrators could still be at large.

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