Srebrenica: 28 Years of Avoiding Accountability
For 28 years, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia have covered up, denied, and minimized the genocide in Srebrenica. They support, protect, and celebrate those who committed the genocide, while concealing and avoiding the responsibility of state authorities for supporting its execution. Those accused of participating in the Srebrenica genocide are finding refuge in Serbia, while the convicted individuals actively participate in public and political life, free to distort facts and minimize the scale of the genocide. Judicial authorities, including the Office of War Crimes Prosecutor, directly and indirectly delay and obstruct the establishment of facts about the genocide in Srebrenica before domestic courts. The qualification of the Srebrenica crime as genocide is not applied, the number of victims is reduced, and the few convicted perpetrators receive unduly mild sentences. Any connection between Serbian state authorities and the execution of the genocide is carefully concealed in proceedings before domestic courts.
The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) considers such conduct by state authorities unacceptable and harmful. It is necessary for judicial institutions to prosecute all those for whom there is evidence of their participation in the genocide and that trials proceed without delay. We demand that officials and institutions of the Republic of Serbia cease the practice of denying the genocide, acknowledge the judicially established facts about the crimes committed in Srebrenica, sincerely apologize to the victims and their families, and provide them with just reparations.
Since the establishment of the Office of War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) in Serbia, five indictments have been raised for crimes in Srebrenica, but none of them have qualified these crimes as genocide. For years, the HLC has pointed out that there is available evidence incriminating potential perpetrators, and it has filed criminal complaints with the OWCP against several high-ranking members of the Army of Republika Srpska for the genocide in Srebrenica. Among them are Svetozar Andrić, deputy commander of the Drina Corps, Petar Salapura, head of the Intelligence Department of the Main Staff of the VRS, and Dragomir Pećanac, an officer in charge of security and intelligence affairs of the Main Staff of the VRS.
Furthermore, individuals against whom the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has raised indictments for crimes committed in Srebrenica and for whom international arrest warrants have been issued, including Tomislav Kovač, Svetozar Kosorić, and Milisav Gavrić, freely reside in Serbia. Despite the well-founded suspicion of their involvement in the crimes committed in Srebrenica, they are allowed to hold high-level public offices, appear on TV shows, deny facts about war crimes and speculate about the genocide.
In June 2021, a mass grave containing the remains of ten Srebrenica victims was found in Dobro Polje, near Kalinovik. Dobro Polje is in close proximity to Godinjska Bara, where members of the “Scorpions” unit executed six prisoners, boys and men from Srebrenica. Based on the research by the HLC and evidence accepted in the trial of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), units such as the “Scorpions,” – the Special Antiterrorism Unit, the Serbian Volunteer Guard and other units – operated in this area. There is a well-founded suspicion of their involvement in the perpetration of this crime.
It is necessary to initiate investigations and criminal proceedings in this and in similar cases against all perpetrators of the Srebrenica genocide who have not been prosecuted thus far.
The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade has convicted six members of Serbian forces in three cases, while two criminal proceedings are still ongoing.
Since December 2016, proceedings have been underway before the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade against seven members of the Special Brigade of the Republika Srpska Ministry of Internal Affairs (Nedeljko Milidragović, Aleksa Golijanin, Milivoje Batinica, Aleksandar Dačević, Bora Miletić, Jovan Petrović, and Vidoslav Vasić, with the accused Dragomir Parović declared unfit to stand trial) for the murder of at least 1,313 Bosniak civilians in the village of Kravica. The indictment does not specify that these were civilians brought from the Srebrenica enclave. This is the biggest and the most complex case in war crimes trials in Serbia, which is lasting for seven years now. In 2022, ten hearings were scheduled, but only two were held. Recently, the main trial started anew as a result of the change of a member of the trial chamber under suspicious circumstances.
Milenko Živanović, the commander of the Drina Corps of the VRS, is the only high-ranking officer being tried before domestic courts for crimes in Srebrenica. He is charged with ordering and participating in the forced displacement of the civilian population from the Srebrenica safe area. The Office of War Crimes Prosecutor of Serbia indicted Živanović a few weeks after the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH had done so, and on multiple occasions trial hearings have been held in parallel before courts in Serbia and BiH. Three hearings have already been canceled in this process since the beginning of the year.
Miomir Jasikovac, the commander of the Military Police Platoon of the Zvornik Brigade, reached a guilty plea agreement with the OWCP of Serbia shortly after the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an indictment against him for genocide in Srebrenica. In the ruling of the Higher Court in Belgrade in January 2023, the number of victims was significantly reduced compared to the facts established by the ICTY judgments, which determined that over 2,000 civilians from Srebrenica were killed in mass executions at locations for which Jasikovac was charged. Additionally, the legal qualification of the criminal offense was changed in this process, and Jasikovac was sentenced to five years imprisonment for war crimes against civilian population, which is the minimum prescribed sentence.
Brano Gojković, a member of the 10th Sabotage Detachment of the VRS Main Staff, who participated in the mass killings of Bosniaks from Srebrenica at the Branjevo Military Farm, reached a guilty plea agreement with the OWCP and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in 2016. The plea agreement was concluded shortly after the judicial authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of which Gojković is a citizen, requested his extradition. Furthermore, Gojković received a significantly milder sentence than other accomplices who were convicted in BiH courts for the same criminal offense.
Members of the “Scorpions” unit (Slobodan Medić, Pero Petrašević, Aleksandar Medić, and Branislav Medić) were accused of killing six Bosniak civilians from Srebrenica, including three minors, at a location known as Godinjske Bare near Trnovo (BiH) in July 1995. Although they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 5 to 20 years, the court completely omitted from the verdict the fact that the killed civilians were previously brought from Srebrenica. Despite evidence that members of the “Scorpions” received salaries from the Serbian State Security Service, the court characterized this formation as a criminal group which is not connected to state institutions.