Global Policy Forum

Srebrenica Indictees:


By Sebastiaan Gottlieb

Radio Netherlands
July 9, 2005

Ten years have passed since the fall of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb forces, but so far only four people have had their sentences confirmed for their part in the massacre of almost 8000 Muslim men.

A total of 19 people have been charged by the Yugoslavia Tribunal (ICTY) for the genocide in Srebrenica, 16 are currently being held in The Hague. The three others are still wanted: Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic and his assistant commander Zdravko Tolimir. Nine of the accused are still awaiting trial and, in order to save time, the ICTY prosecutors are considering the possibility of trying them jointly.

ICTY's largest ever trial

If the prosecutors do indeed decide to go for a joint trial, it will be the largest ever held before the Yugoslavia Tribunal. In legal terms, it's possible to do so because all nine were allegedly involved in the same crime, the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, and they are all accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreover, five of them face charges of complicity in genocide. However, judges at the tribunal must first give their consent to such joint proceedings before they can commence.

Meanwhile, lawyers at the tribunal are concerned that proceedings on this scale could become an organisational nightmare. Some 18 lawyers would be involved in defending the accused, not to mention the large number of prosecutors, all of whom will need a place in the courtroom. The room currently in use is too small to accommodate such numbers, so that it will need to be structurally altered.

Greater coherence

The prosecutors maintain that a joint trial will save considerable time: many points will need to be proved only once, witnesses will not have to travel repeatedly to The Hague for individual cases, one trip will suffice. A trial on this scale would also lead to greater coherence in the treatment of the various charges brought against the accused.

The ICTY already knows a great deal about the Srebrenica atrocities. A great deal of evidence came to light during the earlier trials of Bosnian-Serb General Radislav Krstic and his commanders Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic. But the greatest amount of information has come from three Bosnian Serb soldiers - Drazen Erdemovic, Dragan Obrenovic and Momir Nikolic - who pleaded guilty to some of the charges brought against them. Their statements have helped provide a picture which shows that the murder of the Muslim men and boy from Srebrenica was a coordinated action on the part of the Bosnian Serb army's military security service and military police. They were supplied and paid by a special department of the Serbian government in Belgrade, presided over at that time by Slobodan Milosevic.

Disguised as UN troops

The slaughter of almost 8000 people must have required an enormous logistic operation. Many of the Muslims who managed to get away were caught in the woods that abound in the Srebrenica area and then murdered in various locations. According to witness statements, some Bosnian Serb soldiers dressed up as UN troops in order to fool the Muslims into giving themselves up. The mass graves initially used to bury the victims were later re-opened and the bodies transferred to numerous smaller graves in an effort to hide the evidence and wipe out the traces of the genocide.

Almost all of the nine accused who might face a joint trial were people who did the ‘dirty work' in Srebrenica. Among them is special police commander Ljubomir Borovcanin, who had the task of tracking down escaped Muslims. A photo of him wearing a blue UN helmet has already been seen at the tribunal. Two Bosnian-Serb colonels, Ljubisa Beara and Vujadin Popovic, are also accused of being closely involved in organising the slaughter of Muslims. They led the deportation of the women and children from Srebrenica, and supervised their separation from the men. A transcript of an intercepted communication exists in which Beara asks for assistance because he has 3500 ‘packages' to distribute - the word ‘packages' was a code word for captives who needed to be murdered.

Prosecutors hope that the trial of the nine accused will also yield up evidence as to the involvement of Serbia's former president Slobodan Milosevic. They are seeking an answer to the question of when and by whom exactly was the decision takes to kill the Muslims, and what role Mr Milosevic played in all of this. While a joint trial of all nine accused could have its advantages for the prosecutors, the legal proceedings in relation to Srebrenica will not be complete until Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are also sat in the dock at the Yugoslavia Tribunal.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia
More Information on the Trial of Slobodan Milosevic
More Information on Ratko Mladic
More Information on Radovan Karadzic


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