Anyone who has ever even glanced inside the Hague tribunal courtroom knows that the parties are obliged to stick to the subject and answer the court’s questions, and not speak about whatever they want. Serbian officials don’t seem to get this. Ministers Selakovic, Vulin, and Ljajic issued harsh statements as a reaction to the decision of Dutch judge Alphons Orie to not allow the representative of the government of Serbia, Sasa Obradovic, to speak off topic. Prime minister Aleksandar Vucic himself added to this mini anti-Hague campaign. Even if we could let such ignorance on the rules of the Hague tribunal slide from the ministers, the prime minister has no excuse, given the fact that he was one of the most important members of Vojislav Seselj’s legal team and followed his trial closely, at least until they parted their political ways. He should know what’s allowed in the courtroom and what’s not.
Vucic and his ministers want the Tribunal and judge Orie to “learn to respect Serbia”. They don’t specifically say how this disrespect was demonstrated, but it’s clear that the reaction, including the mention of a note of protest to the Tribunal, was caused by judge Orie’s decision to not allow Obradovic to explain at length why the radical trio – Petar Jojic, Jovo Ostojic and Vjerica Radeta – hasn’t been arrested, but instead ordered him to say what’s being done to ensure that they are. It’s unclear why the decision of the panel to stick to the procedure caused such an outraged reaction of Serbian officials. It’s almost as if they had some hidden reason to be mad.
Perhaps the prime minister’s and his colleagues’ nerves went weak since the question of escaped radicals went from the private into the public sphere right in the middle of the election campaign. Until December of last year the indictment was hidden from the public, as well as the correspondence between Serbia and the Tribunal about the arrest of the three accused radicals. Apparently, instead of cooperating, the government has decided to exacerbate relations with The Hague, for better or for worse… at least until the end of the election campaign.
However, this is only a benign play compared with one detail which went almost unnoticed. The minister of justice Nikola Selakovic said, and prime minister Vucic confirmed, that Serbia had asked the Hague Tribunal, through a confidential memo, to send Zdravko Tolimir home for medical treatment. The memo was sent in October last year and the Tribunal, as they said, didn’t respond, which they took as another gesture of disrespect towards Serbia.
“Mr. Zdravko Tolimir’s life is far more important than the demands of the Hague tribunal and someone has to provide an answer as to why he died in holding”. According to the media, prime minister Vucic said this.
Actually, the answer is not particularly complicated. Tolimir died because he was sick. His health was severely damaged when he arrived in The Hague in June 2007. It was uncertain whether he would live to see the beginning, let alone the end of the trial. All possible medical treatment was provided to him in The Hague and he lived to hear his final verdict, eight and a half years since his arrival.
The answer to the question – what do we want with Tolimir – is much harder.
General Tolimir was in the intelligence service and a right-hand-man to the commander of the army of Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic, during the entire war in B&H. He distinguished himself in July 1995 during the attacks on enclaves Srebrenica and Zepa. He was the head of security and intelligence lines which were used to organize executions of thousands of men and boys from Srebrenica and exile of the rest of Bosnians, with the aim of destroying the non-Serbian population of that part of B&H. That’s according to the verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison for genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, persecution and forcible transfer of the population of Srebrenica and Zepa.
So, the Republic of Serbia has done everything in its power to secure temporary (which, in practice, would have lasted until the end of his life) freedom for a man convicted of the most severe crimes imaginable in the history of mankind, while, at the same time, has been delivering the persons accused of, as the prime minister evaluated, “small acts”, which, by the way, are punishable by seven years in prison, and not three, as he claimed.
Now that we’ve met “Mr. Zdravko Tolimir”, we can easily say that even mentioning his name and his right to live in a sentence which doesn’t include the word “genocide” and mention the more than 8,000 men and boys shot partly thanks to him, is, at the very least, immoral. And not only that. Taking measures to benefit the convicted general is a clear signal that today’s Serbia values his wartime achievements and forgives him, or maybe even approves of, his role in the Srebrenica massacre.
Prime minister Vucic will always publicly condemn the events that took place in and around Srebrenica in July 1995 (although he won’t call them genocide). He will go to the commemoration of Bosnian victims, humbly take a flower from the hands of mothers of Srebrenica, bow his head as he speaks about the crime. And then, six months later, he will do everything in his power to help one of the key organizers of the massacre and go into war with the Tribunal over three radicals. He shows one face to the international community and another to his electorate. What’s the name for that? Hypocrisy.
The author is a researcher with the Humanitarian Law Center.
Translated by Marijana Simic