Serb former paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic (aka Captain Dragan, Daniel Snedden) went on trial in Croatia on Tuesday 20 September 2016 accused of torturing and killing soldiers and civilians during the 1991-95 war of Serb aggression against Croatia. Prosecution alleges that Vasiljkovic, 61, violated the Geneva Conventions while in charge of a Serb paramilitary unit known as the Red Berets by torturing and murdering civilians, prisoner Croatian soldiers and police in the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin in summer 1991 and Bruska near the town of Benkovac in 1993. The charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence in Croatia.
The 61-year-old was indicted in January 2016 for the detention and torture of Croatian civilians and police in the ethnic Serb rebel stronghold of Knin (the so-called self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Krajina) at the start of Croatia’s 1990s independence war. As commander of a Serb paramilitary unit, he did “nothing to prevent and punish such crimes” that occurred in 1991, and personally took part in them, according to the prosecutors.
Prosecutors claim he orchestrated a deadly attack in 1991 on the central town of Glina and the surrounding region in which a civilian and a German reporter were killed while the local Croat and other non-Serb population were forced to flee their homes.
The trial in the city of Split will be held under heavy security measures and so far the prosecution has put forward 55 of its witnesses and defence is still to put forward its list of witnesses. Hence, its likely that the trial will last quite a while.
Vasiljkovic was extradited last year (2015) after Croatian authorities sought an arrest warrant for the fugitive. Extradition process from Australia took ten years, much of which period Vasiljkovic spent in custody awaiting outcomes from and exhaustion of all his rights under the Australian laws. Vasiljkovic has dual Serbian and Australian citizenship, told the court in the Adriatic city of Split that he “feels absolutely no guilt”. He is also accused of drawing up plans to attack police stations.
It’s believed to be the first time an Australian citizen has faced court for war crimes and this had ignited a bitter debate about whether he is a national hero (in Serbia) or depraved criminal. Vasiljkovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia and moved to Melbourne aged 14 with his family and was granted Australian citizenship in 1975 according to court documents. He returned to Serbia during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared independence in 1991 Vasiljkovic trained Serbs to lead operations against the Croats. A Bosnian woman, Jamila Subasic, has accused him of rape and claims he abused her in front of other men. He denies being present at the hotel where it is alleged to have taken place.
A former Croatian prisoner of war, Velibor Bracic, 41, travelled 2009 from Croatia to testify in the NSW Supreme Court in a defamation case brought by Dragan Vasiljkovic against Nationwide News, publisher of The Australian newspaper, had told the court that an Australian citizen accused by Croatia of war crimes (Dragan Vasiljkovic) kicked him in the head in a fortress prison in the early 1990s. recalled how Vasiljkovic personally beat him while showing his subordinates how to do it properly.”He said: ‘If you beat him then you should do it like this’ and then he kicked me in face,” Bracic told Nova TV upon the suspect’s extradition. He described his detention as “24 hours of mistreatment each day… beatings with rifle butts, hands.”
On one occasion, the guards allegedly brought in a baby bear and the inmates were forced to kiss the bear’s backside.
Other times, guns were put in their mouths, while a guard, with his hand on the trigger, would ask: “Do you want us to kill you?” Mr Bracic said. The inmates were also taken outside for mock executions.
The inmates were later transferred to the abandoned Knin hospital. In addition to beatings, the prisoners were allegedly given electric shocks and sexually assaulted.
British newspaper executive Anne McElvoy, who was a war correspondent for The Times in 1991, told the Sydney court in 2009 via videolink she had asked a Serb paramilitary commander in Knin, who had said he was Captain Dragan, about his views on targeting civilian buildings.
“He said: ‘Nobody needs to be armed since I got here. I’m not here to kill people, just neutralise the enemy. When the Croatian side uses hospitals or police stations in their villages as fortified positions, I’m sorry, I just have to massacre them.’ ”
Slobodna Dalmacija news portal from Split reports that entering the court in the city of Split in Croatia 20th September 2016 Vasiljkovic said that he was defending Yugoslavia, that he had the feeling it was pulling away from him and that he is not an aggressor. In that context he mentioned that he feels the Adriatic Sea is his.
Well, nothing new there – Serbia and Serbs who attacked Croatia all thought the same and many still do. Hence, Croatia needs vigilance for its own safety for the Serb hunger for Croatian lands is quite vicious.
There is still no limit as to how far Vasiljkovic will go to insult Croatians. At the entry to the court in Split on Tuesday he reportedly also said that many Australian Croats keep the picture of General Ante Gotovina (Croatian General who led the military operation Storm in August 1995 that liberated Knin and occupied Croatian territory of Krajina from Serb occupation) but that they also keep his picture.
Mid-September 2016 Vasiljkovic had sent a complaint to the UN claiming he was illegally detained in Australia for years and unlawfully extradited to Croatia. In his statement to the UN he alleged that he had suffered from the “violation of the right to liberty and security of a person, as well as the excessive length of the investigative detention”. He urges the UN Human Rights Committee to tell Croatia that he should be freed from custody and allowed to mount his defence while on bail. His lawyers are now awaiting a positive result from the UN, i.e. that Vasiljkovic will receive bail and be able to defend himself from outside prison. The problem with that is that he is a huge flight risk and I certainly hope that the UN Human Rights Committee will think of human rights his alleged victims had and that is a right to justice. If he gets bail he is likely to flee into Serbia or somewhere like that, which could take another ten years to get him back to trial in Croatia. As I see it, Vasiljkovic has had his ten years of evading justice and it’s now the victims’ turn to get justice. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)