Victims Mocked by Government Reception for Lazarević
Vladimir Lazarević, the former Commander of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) Priština Corps, returned to Serbia on December 3rd, 2015, after having served his prison sentence imposed for his responsibility in the commission of crimes against humanity. His return was organized at the expense of the Republic of Serbia; he was accompanied by two Ministers in the Government of Serbia, and welcomed at the airport by other high government officials. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that the institutions of the Republic of Serbia have mocked the Albanian victims of the crimes committed by the army and police in Kosovo, by honouring a person convicted for the most serious crimes according to national and international law, and have thus demonstrated a clear dedication to the anti-civilization values promoted by the Slobodan Milošević regime.
Lazarević arrived in Serbia yesterday on a government airplane accompanied by the Minister of Defence, Branislav Gašić, and the Minister of Justice, Nikola Selaković; and at the reception party organized in Niš, he was welcomed by, among other persons, the Minister of Labour, Employment, and Veteran and Social Policy, Aleksandar Vulin, and the Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković. The Ministers of Justice and Defence stated that his return represents a great day for Serbia, while Minister Selaković stated that „Niš, Kraljevo, Valjevo, Kruševac, and all of our towns and villages are free today thanks to the General.“
The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Vladimir Lazarević on January 23rd, 2014 to 14 years of imprisonment for the deportation and forcible transfer of the Albanian civilian population in Kosovo in which the VJ was involved as crimes against humanity. Contrary to the claims made by Lazarević that he was convicted „only because he was the Commander of the Priština Corps” and the media reports that he was convicted on the basis of command responsibility, Lazarević was found guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of these criminal acts – that is to say, according to the modes of liability also applied in national law, which he committed by securing practical assistance for the VJ soldiers committing these acts.
Lazarević participated in the planning and execution of joint operations launched by the VJ, thus contributing greatly to the commission of criminal offences by the VJ by providing logistical and material support, as well as personnel, even though he had reasons to know that crimes would be committed. For instance, despite receiving information about crimes, such as murder, rape, looting, and robbery, allegedly committed by the MUP in the zone of responsibility of the VJ 37th Motorised Brigade in May 1999, Lazarević continued to approve joint VJ and MUP operations, such as the attack on the village of Dubrava/Lisnaja on 25 May 1999, which involved the forcible displacement of Kosovo Albanians. Lazarević’s defended himself before the ICTY by claiming that he was only following orders and that his actions were thus not voluntary, which the Appeals Chamber of ICTY found “inapposite” (par. 1661. of the judgment).
The role of Lazarević and his subordinate officers in the VJ in the deportation and forcible transfer of the civilian population was represented in the Operation Reka Dossier, which documents the largest joint military-police operation launched during the war in Kosovo, in which several thousands of Kosovo Albanian civilians were displaced to Albania. The deportation and forcible transfer of the civilian population were followed by mass executions of civilians, including women, children, and elderly. At least 350 civilians were killed during the Operation.
In the period between late March and early June 1999, the VJ and MUP displaced at least 700,000 Albanian civilians from Kosovo, while more than 7,000 were killed or forcibly disappeared.