Reaction of the Humanitarian Law Center to Allegations made by General Ljubiša Diković in the “Teška Reč” TV Show

Reaction of  the Humanitarian Law Center to Allegations made by General Ljubiša Diković in  the “Teška Reč” TV Show

Logo FHPGeneral Ljubiša Diković appeared on the Pink TV show Teška Rečon February 2, 2015, after the “Rudnica File” had been made public, only to deny his responsibility for the war crimes committed in Kosovo and to accuse the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) of running a “smear campaign” against him personally and against the entire Army of the Republic of Serbia. General Diković claimed he had never “planned, organized, participated, or in any way instigated the commitment of war crimes.”

The HLC would like to emphasize the fact that General Diković chose not to comment on the contents of the “Rudnica File” i.e. the specific allegations, nor about the documents generated by the state institutions (some of which he had signed himself) testifying about the participation of the members of his Brigade in joint military and police operations during which the war crimes against Kosovo Albanians were committed and about the involvement of the 37th Motorized Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia (37th mtbr) in a cleanup operation (also known as “asanation”) of the conflict site for the purpose of collecting the bodies in the villages in Kosovo where the war crimes were committed.

Since Pink TV failed to secure HLC representation on the show, the HLC must  publicly ask General Diković here the following 4 questions with respect to the crimes committed against at least 41 civilians in the village of Rezala  (Srbica municipality) on April 4, 1999,  27 of whose bodies were found in the mass grave of Rudnica, and about the participation of the 37th mtbr in Rezala on that day, as well as about the actions of the  “Asanation Department” of the 37MBAY on April 13, 1999, involving the bodies of the victims of war crimes in Rezala:

1. What was implied under the order for : “…the search, destruction, and liquidation of SHTS forces (Shqiptar Terrorist Forces)” in the Delijaj Mahala settlement in Rezala, a command given in the “Order” issued by General Ljubiša Diković on April 4, 1999, and how many “ŠTS” members were located and liquidated in this village on April 5, 1999?

2. Which unit of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (MUP) acted in coordination with the Second Motorized Battalion of the 37th mtbr in the operation in Rezala, referred to as “MUP” in the “Order” issued by General Diković?

3. What did the “Squad for Clearing-Up the battlefield” of the 37th mtbr do with “some 30 to 40 bodies” found in Rezala after an investigative judge of the District Court in Kosovska Mitrovica refused to conduct an investigation on April 18, 1999 and insisted that all investigative activities be conducted by the Yugoslav Army investigative teams, and did the 37th mtbr inform the Army investigative teams about it?

4. Why does the Ministry of the Defense keep refusing to disclose combat reports for the 37th mtbr for April 5 and 6, 1999 when many other combat reports for this unit have already been made public?

Also, several assertions General Diković made on the show with respect to the involvement of the 37th mtbr in Kosovo at the end of 1998, about the Ljubiša Diković File published by the HLC in 2012, about his biography, and about his own evaluation of his credibility as a witness before the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) deserve to be addressed, because the public should know that they are not in compliance with publicly available information and documents:

a. In his comments on the allegations from the “Ljubiša Diković File” and the involvement of the 37thmtbr in the crimes committed in Kosovo in 1998, General Diković claims that:

“I only assumed the duty of the Commander of the 37th mtbr at the end of 1998, in November 1998, and in 1998 the 37th Motorized Brigade was not stationed in Kosovo. Not a single member of the 37th Motorized Brigade was in Kosovo in 1998, let alone the entire Brigade.”

The falsity of this claim is undeniably proved by the “Order” of the 3rd Army Command (presented as evidence in the Milutinović et al. Case) about Operation “Grom 98”, which clearly states that one combat group of the 37thmtbr had already been engaged in Kosovo as early as July 1998. We must also remind the public that even before assuming the duties of Commander of the 37thmtbr in November 1998, General Diković was already ranked high in the command hierarchy of this Brigade as its Chief-of-Staff.

b. Commenting on the allegations from the “Ljubiša Diković File” concerning the crimes against humanity committed against the Bosniaks by the 16th Border Battalion in 1994 and 1995 which was under his command at the time, Diković calls them a “filthy lie” and goes on to explain:

“I was relieved of command of the Border Battalion in 1994 at the end of August 1994, because I was sent to Belgrade to continue my education by attending a command-quarters specialized course.  That means that in 1995 I could not have been present in Bajina Bašta and I certainly could not have been Commander of the Border Battalion.”

The HLC points out that there are no available data in publicly accessible documents or on the Yugoslav Army website about the date when Ljubiša Diković was relieved of command of the 16th Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army. However, in his biography published by the daily Politika on December 12, 2011 on the occasion of his promotion to the position of the Chief-of-Staff of the Army of the Republic of Serbia, it is stated that he held that position until 1996.

c. During his appearance on the show, Diković describes his testimony before the ICTY as something he offered “for the sake of the truth”, and that the ICTY found his testimony to be absolutely credible:

“Of course I had earlier accepted to appear as a witness for the Defense, I refused to be a witness for the Prosecution, and as the only still active general, I testified with other two active officers as a witness for the Defense at the ICTY because of the truth, absolutely because of the truth, and for no other reason. The ICTY accepted my testimony as absolutely credible. And everything that the Humanitarian Law Center is now feeding to the public can be found in the documentation of the ICTY.”

However, the facts are different. In its Judgment in the Šainović et al. Case, the ICTY Trial Chamber notes that from the testimonies of Ljubiša Diković and several other members of the Yugoslav Army and MUP of Serbia in connection with the events from Srbica, it had only adopted the parts of their statements which they “deemed reliable” (paragraph 564 of the Judgment, Volume II). Further on, the ICTY established that Diković had changed his statement in the course of the testimony. For example, he had initially claimed that “his combat group had never met any civilians in that (Srbica) region” and then recanted this once he was confronted with his written report of March 28, 1999, in which it is written  as follows: “in the forthcoming operations in the Voćnjak village sector, we expect to encounter shelters with several thousand civilian refugees” (paragraph 598 of the Judgment, Volume II).

d. While speaking on the Pink TV show, General Diković claimed that he could not be accused of command responsibility because that concept of responsibility was not part of any domestic laws, and went on to discredit and trivialize it by providing an example of what, in his opinion, it really meant:

“Let’s say I am in charge of designing a highway. The highway is built, everything is done according to the blueprints, my job is done. Then, some reckless drivers go over the speed limit and lose control of their vehicles on a curve, they get killed or injured, etc. And I get to be blamed for failing to predict that people can lose their lives if they fail to reduce their speed while rounding a curve and for designing a curve so that a vehicle speeding round the curve can skid off the road.”

The HLC would like to remind the public that the command responsibility doctrine was first established after World War Two and that it has become an integral part of the international customary law applied in cases tried before domestic and international courts. Command responsibility is the responsibility of commanding officers who knew or were in a situation to know that a soldier or soldiers under their command had committed or were about to commit a war crime and  failed to undertake steps to prevent the commission of the crime or punish its perpetrators. 

At the time of the armed conflict in Kosovo this form of criminal responsibility was clearly stipulated in the ratified Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions and in the Guidance on the application of the rules of international law of war in the armed forces of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with which General Diković, as a military officer of long standing, must be well acquainted.

The claim made by General Diković that the command responsibility doctrine had not been part of domestic law can easily be contradicted by the numerous trials conducted against individuals charged with this form of criminal responsibility in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo for the crimes committed in the 1990s. Finally, here in Serbia, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor initiated an investigation into the criminal responsibility of Dragan Živanović, former Commander of the 125th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, for the crimes committed during the armed conflict in Kosovo in the 1999.

e. During the show, General Diković, the host and the other guest on the show, deliberately confused the auditorium by talking about the “Rudnica File” and the Ljubiša Diković File as if they were one file, as well as about the reaction of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia to those two documents. Namely, it was said more than once that the “Rudnica File” contains the same “accusations” as the “Ljubiša Diković File” of 2012, and that the Office of the Prosecutor evaluated the (same) allegations in 2012 and informed the public that the allegations were insufficient for the initiation of criminal proceedings against General Ljubiša Diković.

A simple review of the two documents – the  Ljubiša Diković File of 2012 and the “Dossier Rudnica  of 2015can help us see the difference between the allegations in those two files, with the exception of the crimes in Çikatovë e Vjetër/Staro Čikatovo committed on April 17, 1999 (with respect to which the HLC has also obtained new documents in the meantime, in addition to the discovery of the bodies of the victims  in a mass grave in Rudnica in 2013). Therefore, the opinion of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor on the “Ljubiša Diković File” from January 2012 is of no consequence for the interpretation of the allegations contained in the “Dossier Rudnica”.

With respect to the activities of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor concerning the crimes committed in the area of the responsibility of the 37thmtbr, the HLC has published a separate Press Release.

To see the transcript of the Pink TV show Teška Reč in Serbian click here.