23 years since the genocide in Srebrenica – State of Serbia to end prolongation of court proceedings and cease to undermine and reduce the crime
On July 11, 2018, it will be 23 years since the genocide was committed in Srebrenica, when members of the Republika Srpska Army (VRS) killed almost 8,000 Bosniaks. Although in several judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia it was determined that it was genocide committed in Srebrenica, the authorities in Serbia still continue to refuse to accept this fact, arguing that “it is unacceptable that the Serbs are declared genocidal and evil every July“. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that after 23 years it is necessary for the Serbian government to act in a politically mature manner and accept the facts established by the court; and that the state organs involved in the proceedings currently pending before the domestic courts cease with their prolongations, in order to restore dignity to the victims and accord them acknowledgement of their suffering for the loss of their loved ones.
In early 2016, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) raised the indictment against eight members of the Special Police Brigade of the Republika Srpska Ministry of the Interior, charging them for the killings of 1313 Bosniak civilians near an Agricultural Cooperative in the village of Kravica (Bratunac) on 14 July 1995. From its very beginning, the trial was unprofessionally guided and marked by the irresponsible behaviour of the OWCP itself, as well as of the panel.
Although the OWCP raised the indictment in this case at the beginning of 2016, the first main hearing was scheduled only in early December of the same year, and was immediately interrupted because the defendants requested the panel to be dismissed. Since then, another 22 days of trial have been scheduled. Out of that number, 16 trial days were not held (more than 70% of the total), while only six were held. The reasons for not holding the main hearings were various. In one case, the court failed to disclose the identity of the protected witnesses to defendants and their counsels within the legal period; three main hearings were not held because the defence counsel of one of the accused did not show up in the court; two main hearings were not held because, in the meantime, the OWCP indictment was rejected for the reason that the war crimes prosecutor was not appointed at the time the indictment was raised; two main hearings were not held because the files of the case were at the Court of Appeal on the OWCP’s appeal, while in as many as eight cases the reason for not holding the main hearing was that not a single defendant appeared before the court, with different reasons being given for their absence. Also, for one year and a half of the duration of the proceedings, no witness was heard. In the half of the cases where the main hearings were not held, members of the families of victims who wanted to follow this procedure were in the audience. By the fact of the trials not being held, not only were their expectations let down, but the members of the families of the victims were additionally emotionally exhausted, knowing that with such delays the proceedings are only going to be prolonged, and their sufferings continued.
Although in the indictment it was not qualified as genocide, the commencement of the trial for the crime committed in Srebrenica was in the hope that Serbia would have the will to prosecute those responsible for this crime. However, the constant delays of the trial by all actors in the proceedings – the OWCP, the court, the defendants and their defence counsels – has become the main characteristic of this process. This has led to frustration and loss of confidence among members of victims’ families who have kept coming to the hearings hoping that justice would be satisfied and that those responsible for the death of their loved ones would be adequately prosecuted and punished. An additional form of secondary victimization of victims’ family members and pressure on them to stop coming to monitor the trial was also the fact that Vojislav Šešelj, the president of the Serbian Radical Party, was also in the audience during the last three main hearings, who before the beginning of the trials had kept telling the members of the families of the victims that genocide was not committed in Srebrenica, that several thousand Bosniaks were not killed and that he, along with other members of his party, was in the audience in order to provide support to the defendants.
For the 23rdanniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, the HLC demands that Serbian political officials stop degrading and reducing the severity of the crime committed in Srebrenica, while calling the public in Serbia to honour the victims and their families in a dignified manner for the suffering and pain they continue to have to live with.