AIM: start

WED, 14 NOV 2001 00:15:23 GMT

Indictment Against Izetbegovic in the Hague

AIM Banja Luka, November 8, 2001

The announcement of the new RS (the Republic of Srpska) authorities on their intention to establish cooperation with the Hague Tribunal has already been confirmed in two cases. First, recently, after much arguing the National Assembly finally adopted the Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, and today it informed the public of the amended indictment against the former President of the B&H Presidency, Alija Izetbegovic submitted by the RS Government to the Hague Tribunal.

The political story on Alija Izetbegovic's criminal responsibility for war crimes has been going around for the last five years. The General Public Prosecutor's Office in Banjaluka issued an indictment against Izetbegovic on September 11, 1996 and submitted it to the Tribunal together with evidence which was considered to represent relevant legal and factual basis for instituting legal proceedings. However, the then Prosecutor General Louis Arbour returned this indictment as insufficiently founded. It took four years to complete it and God knows when it would have been finished had not the RS Government been under Tribunal's constant pressure for initiating all forms of cooperation.

The amended indictment charges Izetbegovic of having committed several criminal offences that could be qualified as war crimes while discharging the function of the President of the B&H Presidency and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of B&H.

Inter alia, the indictment file, weighing some 50 kgs, contains three hundred criminal charges, 350 depositions of witnesses given to RS judicial authorities, around one thousand statements given to police authorities, 15 video tapes, 9 audio cassettes and names of 800 civilians who were victims of military operations of the B&H Army. The Justice Minister in the RS Government, Ms.Biljana Maric, claims that the indictment was drafted in accordance with the "Road Rules" of the Rome Statute and contained reasonable grounds for suspicion that Izetbegovic had committed war crimes.

The Republican Public Prosecutor, Vojislav Dimitrijevic, explained that under the Constitution, while discharging his function as President of the B&H Presidency from May 1, 1992 to December 14, 1995, Izetbegovic had been the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces that included various para-military, voluntary and mercenary units, which fought in contravention of 1949 Geneva Conventions, committed numerous crimes and which were under Izetbegovic's control. As an example, Dimitrijevic mentioned the 7th Mountain Brigade from the III Corps, which exclusively consisted of foreign mercenaries (Mujaheddins) and whose honorary commander was Izetbegovic.

Izetbegovic is charged with having established or having the knowledge of 800 camps for Serbian civilian population (out of which 80 in Sarajevo) where they were tortured, abused and sent to forced labour, mostly digging trenches along the demarcation line. A special chapter of the indictment, which is qualified as war crimes committed against prisoners of war, cites cases of torture of prisoners of war, including the case of prisoner Milenko Vujovic whose left toe was cut in the Jablanica prison, as well as of five POWs from the Nevesinje Brigade whom they tortured in the Jajce prison by pulling out their healthy teeth.

The indictment against Izetbegovic will provoke various political reactions in B&H. The President of the RS Government, Mladen Ivanic, thinks that this has no special political importance. "We have promised constructive cooperation with the Tribunal, established a Bureau for Cooperation with the Tribunal and this indictment is a proof of our serious work. We consider this as an indictment against an individual, not a nation. We consider Izetbegovic to be responsible because he held a high position, knew of many crimes and did nothing to prevent them", says Ivanic. On the other hand, the entire case is acquiring political connotation. A deputy of the Federation of B&H to the RS National Assembly, Zekerijah Osmic says that all citizens should be treated equally before the Hague Tribunal, but adds that the RS should have first surrendered its suspects from the Hague's public indictments. As far as the Office of the High Representative for B&H (OHR) is concerned, the RS authorities were responsible to furnish evidence against Izetbegovic to the Tribunal and it is now up to the Hague to weigh its value.

Irrespective of the official statements, the indictment against Izetbegovic has its political context, which is linked with the recent enactment of the Law on Cooperation of the RS with the Hague Tribunal. Namely, after the adoption of this Law, RS will have to answer to the Tribunal's requests for the arrest of suspects, which will be impossible to ignore. That is why Izetbegovic's indictment should absorb negative public reactions and serve as an alibi for such "unpatriotic" moves of the state authorities. It is assumed that this fact might be used as a good argument before the public in case Karadzic and Mladic are arrested, although hardly anyone believes that the RS authorities are capable of engaging in such an operation.

Still, there are objections against the RS authorities for their continued disregard of the Hague's public indictments and failure to do anything so as to prosecute war crimes committed by the Serbs. Prime Minister's Adviser for Cooperation with the Tribunal, Sinisa Djordjevic admits that these objections are relevant and promises an urgent revision of court documents which charge the Serbs for grave criminal offences, so as to determine whether they contain any elements of war crimes. "We have admitted that war crimes had been committed by our side too and we have to prosecute such cases", says Djordjevic.

The "Izetbegovic case" confirms that in B&H there are still only "their" crimes. It was therefore impossible for Izetbegovic to be indicted in Sarajevo, same as RS courts could not prosecute RS generals. Instead of criminally prosecuting criminals, the authorities of all three sides are showing excessive concern for "their own" crimes and criminals by visiting detainees of the Scheveningen prison with presents and promises for their arrested General that they would provide them with legal counsels and take care of their families.

Branko Peric