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Investigation 23 Dec 13

Bosnia: Ethnic Politics Dictate Payments

Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects received 640,000 euro of state money, plus more cash from private funds, while Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats got nothing.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Bosnian Serbs protest against the arrest of Ratko Mladic.
Photo: Beta

Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered the largest number of deaths during the early 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia – around 100,000 – while some 2.2 million people fled their homes because of the war.

As a result, 101 of the 161 indictments raised by the Hague Tribunal were for war crimes committed in the country, but Bosnia has spent much less on its indictees than most other ex-Yugoslav states – with some of them receiving nothing at all from their home country.

The country’s two political entities, the Serb-led Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, have taken different approaches to their defendants at the UN-backed court: the Serbs have officially given their suspects some financial support, while the Federation has not.

Republika Srpska has spent a total of 640,000 euro on its ICTY indictees, officials in Banja Luka told BIRN.

The justice ministry said that the Bosnian Serb authorities have allocated funds to defendants in three ways.

The Bosnian Serb government decided in September 2005 that it would grant a one-off 25,000 euro payment to anyone indicted by the ICTY who voluntarily turned themselves in to the local authorities. Seven people did so, costing the government a total amount of 175,000 euro, although the authorities declined to reveal their names.

The second way method was in the form of one-off grants of 50,000 euro awarded to families of people detained by the ICTY to ensure their “material and financial wellbeing”.

Thirdly, the Bosnian Serb authorities set up a foundation called Pomoc (Help) in 2001, through the Former Fighters Association of Republika Srpska, with the aim of helping families of those standing trial at the ICTY or the Bosnian state court.

Between 2003 and 2013, the foundation received around 412,000 euro from the Bosnian Serb government, which has been distributed to families of war crimes suspects either in The Hague or in Sarajevo.

No payments from Bosniaks and Croats

Despite the fact that two wartime commanders of the Bosniak-led Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been sent to trial in The Hague – Sefer Halilovic and Rasim Delic – as well as several high-ranking Bosnian Croat officials, the Bosniak-Croat Federation government has not allocated any funds for their defence or their families, BIRN was told.

“The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina government has never planned or issued financial support to Hague Tribunal defendants or members of their families,” said Edita Kalajdzic, secretary of the Federal government.

But while the Republika Srpska authorities allocate funds for families of Serb war crime indictees, their defence costs are paid by the ICTY and are UN-funded.

The entire costs of the trials of former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, which amount to hundreds of thousands of euros, were initially paid for by the ICTY.

After several years however, the ICTY this year made a decision that both Karadzic and Mladic would have to finance part of their own defence because they could afford it. Karadzic was ordered to make a one-off payment of 150,000 euro and Mladic 60,000 euro.

“I think it is humane and moral for Republika Srpska to help its politicians and soldiers who were wrongly convicted.”

Pantelija Curguz, Republika Srpska Former Fighters Union

 

“The assistance consists of granting documents. We have never received any financial aid from any government in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Miodrag Stojanovic, deputy counsel for Mladic.Legal representatives of both Karadzic and Mladic have told BIRN that they have never received any money from the Republika Srpska authorities for their work.

“The only financial aid to defence teams comes from the government of Serbia for their own citizens,” he said.

Mladic has received about 6,500 euro so far from Serbia, officials in Belgrade have told BIRN – but only for personal support, not for his defence.

Stojanovic’s statement was confirmed by Peter Robinson, a legal counsel for Karadzic.

“There is no legal obligation for a state or entity to help ICTY defendants with financial support. However, some states, such as Croatia and Kosovo, have provided financial assistance to their nationals accused at the ICTY, and you can see the results,” said Robinson.

Last year, the ICTY controversially acquitted former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. Croatia contributed large sums to aid its wartime generals, but the Kosovo authorities have denied paying to support Haradinaj, although a private fund did raise more than a million euro for him.

Victims condemn spending on suspects

Some wartime victims however are outraged at the idea that men like Karadzic or Mladic could receive public money to help them try to beat the charges against them.

Kada Hotic from Srebrenica, who lost some of her family members when Bosnian Serb forces attacked the UN-protected area and massacred more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys in July 1995, said that such payments represented a continuation of the war crimes of the past.

“It would be far better if they invested the money in the reconstruction of schools or communities, in any beneficial work from which people could get jobs, or something similar,” Hotic said.

A similar view is shared by Andjelko Kvesic, the president of the Association of Croatian Former Camp Detainees in Central Bosnia, who said that the authorities should give more to torture victims and others who suffered during the conflict.

“I think we have to bear in mind that the people indicted are innocent until proven guilty; however, we get almost no money for our victims,” Kvesic said.

“We know that many of the Hague defendants are viewed positively in some parts of the population, so the support of politicians is simply a demonstration of that rhetoric.”

Param-Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch

 

Some of these points were echoed by the ICTY’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. While acknowledging that it was “up to sovereign states to decide for themselves how they want to spend money”, he said he could understand some victims’ anger.

“I see the frustration of victims, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where for many years there has been an attempt to create a trust fund for victims, and I think we are far from that, while at the same time many thousands are spent on potential war criminals,” Brammertz told BIRN.

“It is normal any accused has to have the best defence and this is an issue for sovereign states, but I would like to see them apply the same enthusiasm in supporting victims,” he added.

This view, however, is not universally held in Bosnia, particularly among Serbs who feel they have been scapegoated and disproportionately punished for wartime atrocities.

Nedeljko Mitrovic, the president of the Association of Families of the Killed and Missing of Republika Srpska, said there was nothing wrong with funding ICTY defendants who are innocent until proven guilty.

“I see nothing illegal in it, and this can only help people get a fair trial,” Mitrovic said.

The difference between the approach of the Bosnian Serb and Federation authorities in granting funds is only due to the fact that Republika Srpska has a centralised, Serb-dominated government, while the Federation has to create a consensus between Bosniaks and Croats to make such a decision, said Vehid Sehic, a legal expert and former Bosnian judge.

This has proved impossible, and it means that Bosnian Serb defendants get better treatment, and therefore could stand better chances in court, than others from different ethnic backgrounds, Sehic argued.

“I think this situation is unacceptable, because we now have legal uncertainty. People from different entities in one state are being treated differently,” he said.

Serb fund gathers cash for Serbs

Although both entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina provided BIRN with official data about their spending on Hague Tribunal defendants and their families, other forms of financial assistance to war crimes suspects were more difficult to prove.

In June 2013, the Republika Srpska began a scheme in which “all workers and employees in government and public companies” can donate parts of their salaries to the Pomoc (Help) fund, said Maja Radetic, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Work and Veterans Protection in the Serb-run entity.

However Radetic said that her ministry does keep a record of how many people donated.

The Pomoc foundation itself has published no accounts, but the president of the Republika Srpska Former Fighters Union Pantelija Curguz, who controls the foundation, insisted that it is not well-financed.

“We have minimal funds, they are not close to being enough,” he told BIRN.

Curguz said that he wanted Pomoc to be able to finance case reviews for Bosnian Serb war crimes convicts because “a lot of innocent people are in jail”.

“I think it is humane and moral for Republika Srpska to help its politicians and soldiers who were wrongly convicted to finance review processes before the courts. I wish that all of them can prove their innocence in court,” he said.

But although such payouts are legal, the motives behind them are often political rather than humanitarian, and are inspired by nationalist rhetoric, said Param-Preet Singh from international campaign group Human Rights Watch.

“We know that many of the Hague defendants are viewed positively in some parts of the population, so the support of politicians is simply a demonstration of that rhetoric,” Singh said.

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