Hague convictions still leave main Serb criminals at large

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Last month’s conviction of three Serbs as war criminals at the Hague Tribunal brought little joy to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hundreds of thousands still await the results of forensic tests to identify relatives after their bodies were exhumed from mass graves. During the Serbian onslaught on Bosnia from April 1992 to December 1995, hundreds of thousands of Bosnians were butchered by the marauding Serbs. Some were slaughtered like animals by slitting their throats; others were burnt alive in ovens.

Even while three Serbs were finally sentenced to various prison terms for crimes against humanity, two other indicted war criminals–”Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the real perpetrators of these heinous crimes–”are still at large. Karadzic was the political leader of the Serbs in Bosnia; Mladic was overall military commander who organised the horrible crimes. According to informed sources in Sarajevo, the international Stabilization Force (SFOR), whose task includes apprehending these indicted war criminals, is fully aware of their whereabouts but refuses to arrest them.

The first conviction was handed down by the Hague tribunal on December 2 when Mimor Nikolic, assistant intelligence commander of the Bratunac Brigade, admitted that he took part in the massacre (July 1995) of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, the UN-declared "safe-haven", that had been surrounded by his troops. Srebrenica came to symbolize the plight of Bosnia’s Muslims, who were disarmed after UN assurances that they would be protected, and then butchered by the Serbs even as Dutch troops, part of the UN "protection force", looked on. The British general, Michael Rose, who was commander of UN forces for Bosnia at the time, actually claimed that the Bosnians wanted the UN troops to fight their war. All Bosnian males above the age of 14 were separated from the women and executed. Their bodies were then dumped in mass graves. These war crimes were carried out under instructions from Serbia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, and supervised by Mladic. Milosevic is currently on trial at the Hague tribunal, where his trial has turned into a pantomime.

On December 5 a Bosnian Serb general, Stanislav Galic, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for perpetrating a deliberate campaign of terror against civilians during the blockade of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. Thousands of residents of Sarajevo, including women and children (12,000 civilians, including 1,500 children, according to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights), were killed in the three-year siege as Serb troops rained sniper fire and shells on the Muslim sector of the city. The UN war crimes tribunal said that Galic ordered his troops to fire on civilians while they were shopping, tending gardens, fetching water from the river or going about their daily lives. It was the first decision at the UN court for the former Yugoslavia, dealing exclusively with the siege of Sarajevo, which showed to the world images of "Sniper Alley" and corpses of children killed by shells while playing in the snow.

Galic commanded the Romanija Corps that besieged the city, with Serb gunmen holding positions in the hills, cutting its residents off from food and medical supplies. They fired through windows into apartment buildings, killing people while they cooked, ate or even attended funerals. "No civilian of Sarajevo was safe anywhere," said a summary of the 300-plus page judgment. The court held Galic personally responsible, saying that he was not only aware of the "unlawful acts of his troops," but that he dictated "the scale and pace of those crimes."

Dragan Nikolic, the third Bosnian Serb, was a prison-camp commander who allowed his troops to rape, torture and murder Muslim prisoners. The Hague tribunal sentenced him on December 18 to 23 years in jail. Apart from Galic, who was a general, the other Serbs held the rank of colonel or lower. There is widespread suspicion in Bosnia that the big fish–”Karadzic and Mladic–”are still at large because the international community has made a deal with them. Milosevic is the only Serb heavyweight to be brought before the tribunal, and that only because he was a threat to pro-West Serbian politicians in Serbia.

The real task for Bosnia’s Muslims is the location of mass graves and identifying bodies after they are exhumed. This grisly task has fallen to Amor Masovic, head of Bosnia’s Commission for Missing Persons, who is also a member of his country’s parliament. A constitutional lawyer by profession, Masovic was in Toronto and talked to Crescent International. He has so far discovered 290 mass graves and 3,500 individual graves, identifying more than 18,000 bodies through painstaking work. Some bodies have even been discovered in caves where the Serbs dumped them after killing their Muslim neighbours. Masovic will be testifying before the Hague tribunal later this month (January). He said that the central government is not very interested in his work: it is handicapped by lack of cooperation from two of the three members of the presidency. He finds strength in the support he has received from the people. In November, for instance, thousands of people lined Sarajevo’s streets to pay their respects as 290 unidentified bodies were being transported from the forensic labs.

During the Serbian onslaught on Bosnia, from April 1992 to December 1995, more than 250,000 people were murdered, 88 percent of them civilians. No less than 10 percent of them were women and another 3 percent were children. The rest were men aged 16 or more. While the Bosnian Muslims were being butchered, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia. In effect the UN prevented the Bosnian Muslims from defending themselves. When some Muslim countries (Islamic Iran, for instance) tried to help the Bosnians, the Americans intercepted the shipments. The Serbs were given a free hand to butcher Muslims in cold blood. In May 1993, during a visit to Washington DC, when British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind was asked why his government would not support the lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia, he replied: "Then we will lose control." Rifkind, himself Jewish, was in Washington to participate in the inauguration of a Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Despite such barbaric treatment, Bosnia’s Muslims refused to surrender. Gradually, with help from individual Muslims around the world, they started to turn the tide. So the Americans stepped in to impose a "peace" through the Dayton Accord in December 1995. Under this political chicanery, Bosnia was divided into three entities–”Bosnians, Croats and Serbs. While the Bosnians and Croats formed a federation, the Serbs were allowed to establish their own separate entity within Bosnia. The presidency rotates between representatives of the three groups. The government in Sarajevo exists only in name and has little authority to enforce its writ. That explains why indicted war criminals such as Karadzic and Mladic are still at large. In fact the Serb member of the three-member presidential council in Sarajevo has let it be known that once SFOR leaves Bosnia, the Serbs will resume their "ethnic cleansing and continue to work to link with Serbia to establish "Greater Serbia".

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