Srebrenica in the Serbian judiciary

Women in Black’s performance on 10th July 2018 in Belgrade, photo: Pescanik

Women in Black’s performance on 10th July 2018 in Belgrade, photo: Pescanik

Beginning on July 11th, 1995, fleeing massive executions by Ratko Mladic’s army after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave, dozens of Bosnian men fled to Serbia. When they got to the other side of the Drina, the Serbian police arrested them, searched them, locked them up and questioned them for a day or two, and then effectively deported them straight into mass graves. Namely, the Serbian police handed these people over to the police of Republika Srpska, which then immediately handed them to the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), who killed them and threw them in mass graves, along with the other Srebrenica victims. Everyone except for the group of six people which was taken to Batkovic camp. And after the war, Serbia accepted the organizers and perpetrators of the Srebrenica genocide with open arms and gave them shelter for years refusing to ”deport” them to the Hague.

After the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, the wanted defendants were eventually extradited to The Hague or surrendered voluntarily with significant benefits. It had to be done. As for the “unwanted” ones, they remained peacefully in Serbia and were indicted only in rare cases, again only when it had to be done. To this day, five persons were sentenced in two separate cases and eight are still on trial for war crimes against the boys and men of Srebrenica – for crimes, not for genocide, because this is a prohibited word in our judiciary.

After a video of the shooting of six Srebrenica boys in Trnovo near Sarajevo was published, the War crimes prosecutor’s office could not avoid raising an indictment, but then did everything to avoid anything that could be avoided during the trial. So, for example, the court refused to recognize the fact that the young men killed in Trnovo were brought from Srebrenica and dismissed the evidence about the connection of the Scorpions with the Serbian ministry of Interior (four people were sentenced to prison terms of 5 to 20 years), so it turned out that the victims and the perpetrators of the crime in Trnovo both came from nowhere. The goal, of course, was to discard any connection between Serbia and its institutions, in this case the police, with the Srebrenica genocide.

It had to be done in the case of Brana Gojkovic. As a member of the 10th VRS diversionary squad, he participated in the shooting of hundreds of Srebrenica prisoners in Branjevo near Zvornik. The Humanitarian law center filed charges against him and another 11 members of that squad in 2010, but the War crimes prosecutor’s office issued the indictment only in 2016, and only against Gojkovic. Why then? Because right before that, Bosnia and Herzegovina brought an indictment against him and requested extradition. Serbia was obliged to extradite him, as a citizen of B&H, but then an indictment was expressly raised in Belgrade and a settlement on a guilty plea was signed. Thus, a person who enthusiastically participated in the Srebrenica factory of death was sentenced to 10 years in prison without any obligation to testify about other participants in the same criminal process. Thus, the War crimes prosecutor’s office protected him, but also all his accomplices. A group of members of the 10th diversionary squad was sentenced in B&H, while all those who escaped justice in Bosnia still live peacefully in Serbia, including the commander of the squad, Milorad Pelemis, a dear guest on obscure and state-assisted media that helps to poison the public consciousness.

Finally, the third case related to Srebrenica before the domestic judiciary is the most extensive – eight defendants, 1313 victims, and obstruction so overwhelming that it may permanently jeopardize completion of the case. It took years to confirm the indictment for the crime against Srebrenica Bosniaks who were killed at the agricultural estate in the village of Kravica near Bratunac. When the indictment was finally confirmed, the trial started, and then was stopped immediately. The defense first sought the exemption of the panel, then asked the prosecutor to provide them with information on protected witnesses, which was the basis for the suspension of scheduled hearings in December 2016. Since then, obstructions and mistakes, delays and postponements keep happening, so only 6 out of 23 scheduled trials have been held and 0 witnesses were heard in over a year and a half.

In addition to all these obstructions and interruptions, Vojislav Seselj started attending the trials with his entourage. He sits in the gallery, exchanges nationalistic greetings with the indictees and assures them that they are not criminals, but heroes who killed more than 1300 people “in self-defense”. Protected witnesses in the case are starting to have second thoughts; one of them has already received threats and failed to respond to court summons. The presence of Vojislav Seselj, experienced in pressuring witnesses, could only make the situation more difficult and cause the other insiders to withdraw. In this case, the trial for Kravica doesn’t even have to continue.

At the same time, the families, wives, mothers and sisters of Bosniaks killed in Kravica come to Belgrade for the hearings. They come all the way from the Bosnian mountains, in the snow, rain, or heat, they reach Belgrade, often sleep-deprived, more recently starving because of Ramadan, enter the court building, sit in the gallery, and then they are told that the hearing will be postponed. So, in other words, goodbye, go back home and come back in a month, only so we can send you home again. The court “has minimized itself” and the process was turned into a “show”, Kada Hotic said after one of the delayed sessions. She lost her son Samir, husband Senad, two brothers and multiple other relatives in the Srebrenica genocide.

The real question is how much longer Kada Hotic and other relatives of the victims will keep coming to Serbia for the hearings. Of course, maybe this is the goal, to deter all spectators so that the euthanasia of the proceedings can continue unnoticed.

The proceedings for crimes against Srebrenica Bosniaks conducted before the war crimes tribunals in Serbia are the perfect microcosm of the attitude of our society as a whole towards the Srebrenica genocide. On the one hand, we say that we respect the victims, and then we humiliate them; we say that we despise the crime, while in fact we hide the truth about it; we advocate for the punishment of the perpetrators, but obstruct even the smallest effort to do so.

The author is a researcher with the Humanitarian law center.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 11.07.2018.