BIRN BiH Deputy Editor Dzana Brkanic pointed out in her opening remarks, that, besides presenting a digital narrative, the conference held in Sarajevo also aimed to start a discussion on whether there were potential implications for Serbia in the verdict – such as the possibility of payment of compensation to victims, and how facts from the verdict could be used to face the past and future processes.
“The page we are presenting today will also remain as an excellent source of facts for future students and researchers but also as a tool for combatting crime denial and glorification of criminals,” Brkanic said, recalling the tough and long-term journalistic work on the character of the conflict in the country through international verdicts.
Journalist and author of the research on “Serbia’s Role in the War – A Jigsaw Puzzle Through Court Verdicts” Haris Rovcanin, said that the initial Hague verdicts had addressed the question of whether the war in Bosnia was a conflict of international or internal character, primarily due to the role of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and its participation in the war.
“Some chambers determined that the war was of international character up until mid-May 1992, but only in a certain area, while some determined that it was of international character throughout the period covered by a specific indictment, usually the entire 1992,” he noted.
All the chambers determined, and it was not disputed by parties to the proceedings, that an armed conflict existed and that the crimes committed were related to that conflict, Rovcanin said.
During the research, Rovcanin spoke to victims who expressed readiness to sue Serbia for reparations should an opportunity arise, for the sake of the truth and future generations, also saying that while no verdict or punishment can bring back their loved ones, this type of satisfaction would suffice.
Klaus Hoffmann, prosecutor in the Stanisic and Simatovic case, who only spoke in a private capacity at the conference, stated that the final verdict against the former leaders of Serbia’s State Security Service was of great importance, as the two men are the only Serbian state officials convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia during the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Although dissatisfied with the level of the prison sentences, Hoffmann determining the role of Stanisic and Simatovic in crimes was of extreme importance.
As he explained, the State Security Service of Serbia, under the leadership of its former head, Stanisic, played a crucial role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
He added that the State Security Service was directly or indirectly heavily involved in the formation of Serbian units in both countries, in the training and equipment of those units, as well as their financing and coordination.
“Evidence has shown that there was an overall plan and a system to set up training camps and to install Serbian units in the targeted areas to become part of Greater Serbia and to expel non-Serbs from these areas. These units were made up of local Serbs, but always trained, equipped and led by members of the Serbian State Security, or at least on its behalf,” said Hoffmann.
He recalled that this included special units such as the infamous Scorpions, the Red Berets and Arkan’s Tigers, as well as units directly led by Simatovic, so-called Frenki’s Men.
In Hoffmann’s opinion, much of the war and many of the crimes would have not been possible without the support and contribution of the State Security of Serbia. It all followed an overall plan to create a “Greater Serbia”, which was shared by the two accused and other key players in Serbia.
He also reflected on the definition of the conflict, pointing out that the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, was not per se a truth commission, to present a full historical record. But he said it was important to understand that many of the early verdicts of the ICTY rendered findings on the existence of the armed conflict and its nature, as well as regarding general historical and political facts.
“In the present case, the evidence therefore did not focus on the nature of the armed conflict but rather on the personal role and contributions of the two accused with regard to the specific crimes as indicted. There was no dispute about the existence of an armed conflict as such. There was also no real dispute about some of the crimes committed in various locations in the two countries,” he said.
The core challenge for the Prosecution in this case, according to Hoffman, was to show that both accused were personally liable for those crimes, although no one ever alleged that either of the accused personally killed any of the civilian victims or committed any of the charged crimes on the ground.
“The fact that the Appeals Chamber after the retrial finally confirmed the charges and the personal responsibility of the two accused as perpetrators shows that the Prosecution team after all was successful in its work over many years,” he said.
As part of the conference, a panel discussion on “What next? – Potential implications of the verdict and impact on facing the past” was held.
This identified the fact that one of Serbian officials was convicted of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at removing the non-Serb population from parts of Bosnia and Croatia as one of the most important facts of this verdict.
Nenad Golcevski, of the Serbian Fund for Humanitarian Law, said the verdict demonstrates the most direct possible connection of Serbia with the war, but also the social importance.
“The conclusion on the character was secondary for the Chamber, but for us it is equally important as the role of Serbia,” he said.
Golcevski pointed out that the facts about Serbia’s involvement in the wars can no longer be disputed, adding that silence had reigned in Serbia after this verdict.
“Not a single official from Serbia said a word about this verdict. That is Serbia’s reaction,” he said, adding that Serbia stopped for a moment only when a video of the Scorpios was published.
He also reflected on the possibility of reparation, stating that victims have the right to compensation because Serbian law recognizes the verdicts of international courts, but that such verdicts must also contain their names.
As he noted, the final verdict against Stanisic and Simatovic named one victim only.
“The Serbian prosecution should prosecute lower ranked perpetrators and then it will be possible to name victims and seek compensation,” he said. He added that this could be done either through criminal or civil proceedings. Civil proceedings are much more exhausting for victims, however, as they must go through traumas again.
Sarajevo-based attorney Sabina Mehic highlighted that the verdict was important both from the social and legal aspect, and that it could contribute to case law for using certain standards.
“It is significant from the aspect of involvement of officials from Serbia in a joint criminal enterprise and units that directly committed crimes,” she said.
She added that the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina should put more focus on compensation for non-material damage.
A video of Berizeta Pitarevic, sister of Sidik Salkic, one of the six men from Srebrenica killed in Godinjske Bare, was played at the panel discussion.
BIRN BiH has analyzed how verdicts delivered by the ITYCY and International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, as well as International Court of Justice, defined the character of the war in Bosnia with reference to the verdict against Stanisic and Simatovic.
Stanisic and Simatovic were found responsible for participating in a joint criminal enterprise and crimes committed in Bijeljina, Zvornik, Bosanski Samac, Doboj and Sanski Most, as well as murders of men from Srebrenica near Trnovo in BiH and on mount Dalj in Croatia.
The verdict also showed the role of Serbia in the war, which is of particular importance as different narratives about the war in Bosnia have co-existed for three decades.
The Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation supported this research and project.
You can find the multimedia page on this link.