New ICTY sentences now directly implicate Serbian Government in Muslim Ethnic Cleansing

As old tensions are rekindled and continue to escalate in Kosovo, this week on June 1st, UN judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, arrived at an historic judgment that two Serbian officials had committed war crimes on orders directly received from the Serbian government at the time.

The judges dismissed an appeal by two of Slobodan Milošević’s most senior Serbian Security officials, spymasters and closest allies – Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic and instead increased both their sentences from 12 to 15 years.

Jovica Stanisic, was the former head of Serbian state security, and during the trial of Slobodan Milošević, who became known as the ‘Butcher of the Balkans’, was presented as one of his most zealous supporters. 

Milosevic’s linchpins and spymasters

Both Stanisic and Simatovic, have been described as ‘linchpins in Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing plans, although they had previously been successful in defending against indictments made at a 2021 trial. At the 2021 trial, the judges concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove their ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ culpability and responsibility in the concerted mission to ethnically cleanse Muslims from across Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time it was common knowledge that both parties had been responsible for organising and directing the armed units responsible for the murders, deportations, beatings, illegal detentions, sexual abuse, and forced labor, they were acquitted in 2013 due to lack of evidence linking them directly to those crimes. However, two years later in 2015, an appellate court ordered a retrial because it deemed that there had been ‘a misinterpretation of the concept of criminal complicity’.

The conclusion of the trial this week – after a 20 year process, now achieves the accolade of being the longest international war crimes process in history and one which has seen both Stanisic and Simatovic face a trial – which originally acquitted them, but then subsequently after their own appeal, both faced another trial which determined that the scope of their original convictions should be expanded and the tariffs increased.

In 2021, both parties were found guilty simply of  ‘aiding and abetting crimes in the town of Bosanski Samac’. The crimes which they were deemed to have aided (but did not themselves perpetrate) effectively amounted to the ethnic cleansing of the town of its Croat and Muslim populations. They were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for providing ‘practical assistance’, namely the training of paramilitaries in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were not held responsible for the ‘crimes of murder, forcible displacement and persecution’ committed by those they trained.

New verdict finds both men guilty of participating in ethnic cleansing programme

This week’s verdict upheld the earlier conviction but also found the men additionally guilty of a wider scope of war crimes, which took place across the Balkans in full pursuit of Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing programme. Graciela Gatti Santana, the head of the court of appeals judges said:

‘Stanisic and Simatovic shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose to forcibly and permanently remove the majority of non Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina through the commission of the crimes’

This new ruling by the ICTY represents the first convictions of Serbian war criminals for the actions, which took place in Bosnia and is groundbreaking in that it determines that Serbian officials were key players in a criminal enterprise on the orders and direction of political and military powers in Belgrade.

The Judges at the International Court of Justice in this historic case, made the following important determination:

‘although there was a genocide in Srebrenica, Serbia was not directly responsible or complicit in it, although it erred in failing to prevent it… In other words, absent a conviction of Stanisic and Simatovic, the ICTY would have ended its mandate without implicating the Serbian government. It’s easy to focus on the evil of Mladic, Karadzic, and Milošević, but it is important to understand the complex machinery of the criminal enterprise for which Stanisic and Simatovic were convicted.’

Both defendants were handed sentences of 15 years, having now been found guilty of crimes against humanity in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. In a statement to the press after the verdict, Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz said:

‘It’s the only decision we have with the direct involvement of officials from Belgrade convicted as part of a joint criminal enterprise

President of Mothers of Srebrenica hopes verdict will help heal tensions

Munira Subasic, President of ‘Mothers of Srebrenica speaks after the verdict

Munira Subasic, President of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” association, which campaigns for justice for victims of the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims, said that she hoped the verdict would go some way towards healing the tensions that still plague the Balkans. Adressing the press outside the court she said:

‘Without truth, there is no justice. Without justice, there is no trust. And without trust, there is no reconciliation’

Amnesty International’s spokesperson, Jelena Sesar, said the convictions were a ‘historic moment for international justice’ and she added:

‘It leaves no doubt about the involvement of Serbia’s police and security services in the wartime atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is something that Serbia’s authorities continue to deny to this day’

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