Serb killers guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, says ICC

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zulekha Samad

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 1431 2010-06-01

News & Analysis

by Zulekha Samad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1431)

The two defendants convicted of genocide were Lt. Col.Ljubisa Beara, 70. A third Bosnian Serb Army officer, Drago Nikolic, 52, was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide and sentenced to 35 years. Four other defendants were convicted of crimes against humanity and other wartime atrocities

For families of the genocide victims in Srebrenica, the news could not have come at a more appropriate time. Preparing for the 15th anniversary of the July 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague handed down two rare genocide convictions on June 10 together with five other convictions in the nearly four-year long trial. Two officers of the Bosnian Serb Army were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst single episode in a decade of war in which an estimated 9,000 Bosniak (Muslim) men and boys were slaughtered by the Serb army and their bodies bulldozed into mass graves. The Serbian genocidal war on Bosnia and Herzegovina left more than 300,000 Bosniaks dead; an estimated 10,000 women and girls were raped during the period 1992–1995.

The two defendants convicted of genocide were Lt. Col. Vujadin Popovic, 53, and Col. Ljubisa Beara, 70. A third Bosnian Serb Army officer, Drago Nikolic, 52, was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide and sentenced to 35 years. Four other defendants were convicted of crimes against humanity and other wartime atrocities. Among them were two generals: Radivoje Miletic, 62, who was sentenced to 19 years, and Milan Gvero, 72, who received a five-year prison term. Vinko Pandurevic, 50, a brigade commander, got 13 years, and Ljubomir Borovcanin, 50, a police commander, was sentenced to 17 years.

In Bosnia, Zumra Sehemerovic, who represents the association of massacre survivors, said the recognition of the crime was essential to the victims. “We are satisfied that they have been jailed for life for genocide,” she said.

During the four-year trial many witnesses gave emotional testimony, at times in horrifying detail. They narrated gruesome tales of Serbian brutality in Srebrenica and Zepa, designated as “safe havens” by the United Nations under the pledge that if the Bosniaks handed in their primitive weapons, UN peacekeeping forces would protect them. The Dutch contingent assigned to defend Srebrenica stood by when the Serbs overran the so-called safe havens in July 1995 brutally killing thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees. Tens of thousands of Bosnian women and children were forced to walk 70 miles on difficult mountainous terrain to Gorazde to narrate the horrifying tales of slaughter of their loved ones — husbands, sons and brothers — at the hands of the Serb butchers.

Colonel Popovic, chief of security of the Drina Corps, was one of the central figures who helped plan and organize the slaughter, separating men, organizing convoys and showing up at the major killing sites, the judges said. “He was entrenched” in the operation and “participated with resolve,” they wrote. His “robust participation in all aspects of the plan demonstrates that he not only knew of the intent to destroy” the group, but that “he also shared it,” the three-member panel of judges said.

Colonel Beara, chief of security of the army main staff, ranked above Colonel Popovic. As the most senior security officer, “He had the clearest overall picture of the massive scale and scope of the killing operation,” the judges said. He organized logistics and became the massacre’s “driving force.” He located detention and execution sites and recruited people to help with the killing and the digging of mass graves, court documents said.

Genocide is defined in the 1948 United Nations resolution and establishes that the crime goes beyond mass murder. It requires proof of “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” The three-judge panel at The Hague ruled that the definition of genocide had been met.

“The scale and nature of the murder operation, with the staggering number of killings, the systematic and organized manner in which it was carried out, the targeting and relentless pursuit of the victims, and the plain intention — apparent from the evidence — to eliminate every Bosnian Muslim male who was captured or surrendered proves beyond reasonable doubt that this was genocide,” the judges wrote. The presiding judge, Carmel A. Agius of Malta, finished a long summary of what he called the “horrific crimes” of July 1995, “arrestive in their scale and brutality,” and he asked the seven accused to stand to hear their sentences. The seven defendants were lined up in two rows in the dock. Some of the defendants showed no emotions while others appeared without remorse even after their guilt in one of the most horrific crimes at the end of the 20th century had been proved beyond any shadow of doubt.

During the Serbs’ genocidal war on Bosnia, the Bosnian Serb Army and militarized police were on Serbia’s payroll and the Belgrade regime then headed by Slobodan Milosevic provided equipment and sent the military, the special police, mercenaries and intelligence specialists to Bosnia.

Although the UN war crimes tribunal has convicted more than a dozen people of crimes committed in Srebrenica, it has only once before issued a conviction of genocide. That ruling, against General Radislav Krstic, was lessened on appeal to “aiding and abetting genocide.” Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader, is currently being tried on charges of genocide, as is Zdravko Tolimir, a senior intelligence official.

But the man widely considered the chief planner and organizer of the massacre, General Ratko Mladic, is still a fugitive and believed to be protected by the Serbian army. Milosevic, the former president of Serbia and architect of the war, died in 2006 while his trial was under way.

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