Croatia: Hague Judgement Against Serb Vojislav Seselj Brings No Liberation From Fear Of Violence And Hatred

Vojislav Seselj
Photo: AFP/Getty

Paragraph 175 of the Appeals Chamber, The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), judgment dated 11 April 2018 (PDF judgement) found the Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj guilty of crimes against humanity in relation to his public speeches actions targeting persecution and forcible deportation of Croatians living in Vojvodina province in Serbia. Seselj did not attend the hearing but remained in Serbia where he was in 2014 released to from The Hague on grounds of a terminal illness.

The judgement states:

The Appeals Chamber has found that, on the basis of his 6 May 1992 speech in Hrtkovci, Vojvodina, Seselj is criminally responsible and therefore guilty, pursuant to Article 1 of the Mechanism’s Statute and Articles 5(d), 5(h), 5(i) and 7(1) of the ICTY Statute for instigating. deportation, persecution (forcible displacement), and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer) as crimes against humanity and for committing persecution (violation of the right to security) as a crime against humanity. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber must consider an appropriate sentence.

All other grounds of Prosecution’s Appeal against Seselj, which include indictments for alleged criminal acts on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were overturned. Seselj was accused of committing the crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia, Serbia’s Vojvodina region, and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and killed some 130,000 people. The alleged crimes included persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds, deportation, murder, and torture.

Regardless of details in findings entailed in the said judgement and given the Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – where Serb’s sought to claim territory via ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs and other crimes against humanity – the clearing of Seselj’s speeches of guilt for crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina one needs to express disbelief and shock in the apparent MICT Appeals Chamber’s failure to assess the real, the general and cross-border impact of Seselj’s inciting and hateful speeches against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Certainly, the MICT Appeal Chamber judgement leads to the conclusion that there is no doubt that Seselj’s speeches encouraged and led other Serbs to commit crimes against non-Serbs and the reality of the times was that wherever Serbs lived, Serbs considered that land to be Serbia and Serbs taking part in the brutal aggression across former Yugoslavia heard and heeded his speeches, acting violently accordingly! No doubt about that in my or any other reasonable mind.

MICT sentenced Seselj to 10 years in prison but ruling that he has already served that time because of the time he had spent in custody in The Hague. Seselj, who was extradited in 2003 and served nearly 12 years in pre-trial detention in The Hague but returned to Serbia in 2014 on medical grounds.

During the period of his detention in The Hague, Seselj was found guilty of contempt of court on three separate occasions and was sentenced to 15 months, 18 months, and 2 years of imprisonment, respectively, and the ICTY Appeals Chamber recognized this as time served. In paragraph 177 of the said judgement says “Nothing in ICTY/MICT provision or the jurisprudence suggests that the contempt sentences should be subtracted from the time that Seselj spent in pre-trial detention. The fact remains that, whether Seselj was convicted of contempt or not, he was still subject to detention by virtue of the charges against him in his main trial. There is nothing in the contempt judgements to suggest that the contempt sentences should not be served concurrently to any main sentence.

This would suggest that while omitting to state it explicitly (as is usually the case with sentencing) in the sentencing part of the judgement, the MICT Appeal Chamber has decided to lumber Seselj’s sentences amounting to 12 years 9 months into one lot of 10 years i.e. granting Seselj concurrent serving of all four sentences (three for contempt of court and one for crimes against humanity). It would seem that a consideration of consecutive serving of sentences was not a leading element in the courts deliberations; hence Seselj was not required to return to The Hague. It stares one in the eye that MICT has left a loose end in this and that clarification for public interest and for justice to be seen to have been done regarding the concurrent versus consecutive serving of sentences is needed.

Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has issued a statement regarding the MICT Appeal Chamber judgement against Seselj, which includes:

The Ministry also welcomes the important finding of the Mechanism regarding the existence of a systematic and widespread attack against the non-Serbian civilian population, in which Vojislav Šešelj also participated, as a confirmation of planned criminal activity aimed at creating ‘Greater Serbia’. At the same time, the Ministry considers the pronounced sentence to be far too mild with respect to the acts committed and their consequences.

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, however, expresses its regret that the Appeals Chamber failed to find Vojislav Šešelj responsible for committing and being involved in committing the gravest crimes against humanity and war crimes during the aggression against the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina through his criminal activity in their territory (especially Vukovar). The Ministry also expresses its regrets that the Appeals Chamber failed to find Vojislav Šešelj responsible for participating in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently removing the non-Serbian population, primarily Croats and Bosniaks, from the areas that the then Serbian political and military leadership considered to be Serbian.

As one of the main advocates of the idea of ‘Greater Serbia’, with the western border Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag, Vojislav Šešelj, through his inflammatory and barbaric rhetoric, motivated and instigated his volunteers, as well as other Serbian troops to the persecution and killing of Croats and Bosniaks.”

The reasoning and sentiments flowing from this statement appear widespread across the globe particularly in those who lived and suffered the ugly truth of the fatal and brutal effects Seselj’s (and other Serb leaders’ at the time) had on inciting vicious crimes against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia and Croats and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina – throwing those victims into the absolute need for defence and self-preservation.

The unrepentant Serbian Radical Party leader, Seselj, has stuck to his Serb nationalist line, telling news agency AFP last week he will never give up the idea of a “Greater Serbia”, uniting all parts of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia where Serbs live.

In comments made to the AP news agency after the ruling, Seselj said he was “proud of all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were attributed to me, and I am ready to repeat them in the future.”

Seselj’s disturbing statements do clearly demonstrate the abhorrent determination in the Serb aggression to destroy the Croatian and non-Serb population domiciled in the areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia over which Serbs pursued forceful control. As can be concluded from Seselj’s reactions to the MICT judgement the frightening fact persists in today’s times, and that in itself has implications that leave Croats at constant guard for their safety and independence on their own territory. Ina Vukic

Remembering Vukovar And The Smut Of Erdut Agreement

Ivo Lucic
Photo: screenshot

This is the week we remember the victims in the November 1991 fall of Croatia’s Vukovar (and all the victims of Serb aggression against Croatia), brutally attacked, destroyed, slaughtered and tortured by Serb rebel paramilitary as well as Serb-led Yugoslav Army forces. This is the week that in our mind the thoughts of forgiveness and reconciliation inevitably intrude upon those of profound sadness for the victims and the search for that light of justice due for all. Forgiveness, though, is only truly earned by those that repent. This, though, is not the case for the Serb who are, these days, on an accelerated and noisy rampage of trying to justify the crimes because of which Croatia was put into the situation of having to defend the self-preservation of its own people and land from the onslaught.

While the Erdut Agreement reached on 12 November 1995 for a peaceful reintegration into Croatia of its Serb-occupied territory in the vicinity of Vukovar, the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium established all transitional arrangements, including a transitional administration that would facilitate the return of refugees in the region, the protection of refugees and their property rights, and the deployment of an international force to maintain peace and security in the region, Croatian Serb leaders including member of parliament for Serb ethnic minority Milorad Pupovac, undoubtedly propped-up by Serbia’s support, are resurrecting these days the Erdut agreement as though it was a permanent fixture in the way independent Croatia should proceed to develop itself as a sovereign democratic state, and as though it gave the Serb aggressor absolution for its crimes and rights to go on with life as though no aggression, murder, ethnic cleansing of Croats from the region, torture – occurred back then! Pupovac said this week at the marking of the anniversary of the Erdut Agreement that the agreement would be satisfied in full when there is Serb representation in all municipal councils of Croatia, in all government ministries, in all institutions…!

Whether the Erdut Agreement had in fact clauses or addendums that stipulate any such representation or not, is beside the point as in fact and de jure agreements have a life span that cannot be extended or shortened without due legal processes. The Erdut Agreement had the life span of transitional nature and if anyone has issues with its implementation the world of judicial pursuits upon which any “complaints” should be adjudicated in democracy is open to all, including Serbs. But I somehow doubt Pupovac has a leg to stand on in the scheme of things that occurred with Serb aggression and their tremendously destructive consequences for the Croatian citizens and the development of the democratic state.

Erdut Agreement was largely a brainchild of Peter Galbraith, US Ambassador to Croatia, who along with Russian Ambassador Leonid Karestadjians and German diplomat Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, concocted in January 1995 the so-called Z-4 Plan for Croatia where autonomy (to Serbs) would be given on a significant part of the occupied Croatian territory! It actually planned for a legal Serb state within Croatia! There’s more than one way of succeeding in extending the borders of Greater Serbia, it seems – if Croatia’s leaders permit Pupovac and his followers the reign of drunken, hateful, disrespect for the victims of aggression and Croatia’s victory of independence as a sovereign state. There was not a single word of remorse for the genocide committed against Croatian people, across Croatia. Pupovac made the point of saying that Erdut Agreement brought peace to the region but failed to address why it was essential to bring peace and what was behind it (Serb aggression).

The fact that Pupovac rhetoric regarding infiltrating public administration and decision making with members of ethnic Serb minority brings about torrents of traumas to the Croatian public because, among other disquieting thrusts that suggest Serb victory within Croatia, it represents the notion that all crimes of aggression against Croatians and Croatia should perhaps be erased as acceptable and forgotten as if nothing happened! Pupovac move here is a clear example of attempting to solidify the equating of victim with the aggressor.

That which medical doctors did in Vukovar hospital in 1991, healing all patients, even those belonging to the enemy, is something that is rarely seen and we can be proud of that. With this book I wanted to tell that relatively unknown story because we know quite a bit about the battles for Vukovar and about defending it but the story about the heroic doctors has remained somewhat in the shadows,” said dr. Ivo Lucic in Zagreb, Croatia, on 14 November 2014 at the promotion of his book “Vukovar hospital, the lighthouse in the historic storms of Croatia’s East” (“Vukovarska bolnica svjetionik u povijesnim olujama hrvatskog istoka”).

The hospital was also a warning for those who approached, and who has destroyed Vukovar just before that. The hospital sent the message to watch how they approach the institution marked with a red cross and protected under international laws. However, they did not accept that message and ran aground the cliffs of crimes, did everything that is already known to us, in Ovcara and other places, murdered the wounded and civilians and that is something that will remain in their conscience forever,” dr. Lucic emphasised.

By the end of its three-month siege at the hands of Serb forces in November 1991, Vukovar had become utterly devastated and its Croatian and non-Serb population ethnically cleansed. The capture of the town was an important strategic objective for the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. It was designed to consolidate Serb control over the region of Croatia known as Eastern Slavonia.

When the Serb forces took control of Vukovar on 19 November 1991, several hundred people took refuge in the town’s hospital in the hope that they would be evacuated in the presence of neutral observers. But instead of the hoped-for evacuation, about 400 individuals – including wounded patients, soldiers, hospital staff and Croatian political activists – were removed from the hospital by Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary forces and taken to Ovcara farm near Vukovar. The detainees were beaten up. Some died of their injuries and approximately 260 of them were executed and then buried in a mass grave.

Lest we forget!

Ina Vukic

ICTY Stanisic and Simatovic Retrial – Serbia’s Involvement On Agenda For War Crimes Against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Serb war crimes suspects:
Jovica Stanisic (L)
Franko Simatovic (R)

 

Two former secret police chiefs – Jovica Stanisic, the former head of Serbia’s state security, and Franko Simatovic, his deputy, once held to be among the most powerful men in Serbia, went on trial Tuesday 13 June 2017 at The Hague ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) for the second time, accused of running a lethal network of covert operations during the 1992-95 conflict in which Serbia wanted to prevent the break-up of Yugoslavia despite the fact that majority of people in states that made up Yugoslavia, except Serbia, voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia.

The ICTY prosecutors hold that the operations were intended to impose as well as conceal the wartime policies of Slobodan Milosevic, the then Serbian president. The policies that with their intent could perhaps be captured in a sentence uttered by Milosevic in 1989: “Either Serbia will be united or there will be no Serbia!” With this non-Serbs across former Yugoslavia began to tremble.

Stanisic and Simatovic were acquitted of similar charges to those in paragraph above in 2013 after a three-year trial at the ICTY in The Hague. The acquittals shocked legal experts, victims’ families and survivors of the wars of Serb aggression in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The wars of Serb aggression in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during early 1990’s meant that special combat units of the Serbian secret police directed Serb paramilitary forces who burned churches and mosques and killed masses and raped civilians in village after village to drive out non-Serbs (Croats and Bosniaks and other non-Serbs). These special combat units often went into action ahead of or alongside Serb military units.

With regards to the 2013 acquittal the ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in an interview: “Take for example, the most recent decisions on Stanisic and Simatovic. That victims cannot be satisfied with this decision is obvious. The judges on one hand have confirmed that Stanisic and Simatovic, as responsible for the Serbian intelligence service in Belgrade during the wartime, were the ones creating those special units (Serb paramilitary groups responsible for atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia), that they were the ones supporting financially those units, and that they de facto also were the ones who had a certain control of those units. To have as a conclusion that they were acquitted because they have not specifically directed their support to a commission of crimes is, of course, a notion very difficult for victims to understand. And even at my office, we considered it as a break from the previous jurisprudence where it was sufficient to prove that somebody who was providing substantial support to a party in the conflict had actual knowledge about the commission of crimes by those groups.”

In late 2015, ICTY appeals judges ruled that they had found legal and factual errors in the first trial.

While the judges in the Trial chamber ruled that the defendants had issued no “specific direction” to commit crimes, the appeals judges said no such proof was required to prove a criminal conspiracy or the aiding and abetting of crimes. Given that two of the three original judges had left the chamber, the case could not be sent back the appeals judges issued a decision that not only overturned what had been established by the Trial Chamber back in 2013, but also ordered that Stanisic and Simatovic be retried.

This was/is particularly good news as there has been a consistent, propaganda calibre of an alarming rise of zeal among Serbian nationalist groups, politicians and other public-figure individuals who are rewriting the history of the conflicts in Croatia and Bosia and Herzegovina, denying that Serbs committed any war crimes, pushing the agenda of Serb victimhood including falsely branding the voluntary withdrawal from Croatia of some 200,000 Serbs after Croatia’s liberating military operation Storm in August 1995 as forced deportations and ethnic cleansing, banning references to the conflict from schoolbooks and glorifying convicted war criminals.

ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, told the Security Council on June 7, 2017,  that despite the large body of evidence proven in “case after case,” the denials and the refusal to accept facts, even by government officials, were “loud and clear.” (For Full address click here

Genocide is denied. Ethnic cleansing is denied,” he said.

When irresponsible officials use division, discrimination and hate to secure power, conflict and atrocities can gain a logic of their own,” Brammertz said. “That was true two decades ago when genocide and ethnic cleansing began, and it remains true today.”

On the first day of the new trial on Tuesday 13 June 2017, Douglas Stringer, a prosecutor, portrayed the two former Serbia secret police chiefs, Stanisic and Simatovic, as close to Slbodan Milosevic, who had himself gained control of the institutions and agencies of the federal government of what was then Yugoslavia.

Milosevic entrusted the two men with all the critical aspects of secret police activities leading up to and during the wars, Stringer said

The men set up clandestine training camps for paramilitary fighters and acted as chief organizers, paymasters and suppliers for those units, he said. The paramilitaries, some of whom were convicts, became notorious for their brutality and, according to ICTY prosecutor Stringer, “looted on an industrial scale.”

Far from spontaneous, the prosecutor said, the Serbian state security at first placed their operatives in positions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia that were scheduled for “ethnic cleansing.” He said these operatives were known as “doublehatters,” at once linked to the Belgrade government and also key players locally who relayed orders to the paramilitaries. All the activities “were covert to conceal the hand of Milosevic,” Stringer said.

The fate of Stanisic and Simatovic will be crucial in legally determining the role of the Serbian state in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina that killed more than 130,000 people. After two decades of trials at the tribunal in The Hague, no officials of the Belgrade wartime government are serving sentences, only Bosnians and Croats. Should Stanisic and Simatović be found guilty in the retrial, a connection between the Serbian political cadres and the crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina would be established, legally sanctioning the direct involvement of the Serbian state in the 1990’s wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Slobodan Milosevic, considered the war’s main architect, was facing a list of charges, including genocide, when he died in a tribunal cell in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial. His chief of staff, Gen. Momcilo Perisic, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years for aiding and abetting war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the verdict was overturned on appeal in 2013 because no “specific direction” to commit crimes had been proved. That ruling also led to disagreements among legal scholars and judges. ICTY is expected to deliver a verdict for Gen. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, in November 2017. Ina Vukic

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