The Hague Tribunal’s war crimes acquittal of Yugoslav Army general Momcilo Perisic pleased Bosnian Serb politicians but angered Bosniak victims of the 1990s conflict.
In Bosnia’s Serb-run entity Republika Srpska, the leader of the Party of Democratic Progress, Mladen Ivanic, said the success of Perisic’s appeal against his conviction for war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia represented “some kind of balance” after the acquittals of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac last year.
The Hague made a mistake in originally sentencing Perisic to 27 years in jail, said Goran Petronijevic, head of the legal defence team for former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who’s also on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
“I have a feeling that the ICTY, because of the harsh criticism of its verdicts against Serbs, found a way to repay [Serbia for the injustice],” Petronijevic said.
But Bosniak politician Amir Zukic, general secretary of the Party of Democratic Action of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the overturning of Perisic’s conviction “sends a catastrophic message”.
The harshest criticism came from groups representing Bosniak victims of the conflict.
“I no longer believe in the ICTY because this is political judgment,” said Sabaheta Fejzic on behalf of an association of victims from the Bosnian towns of Srebrenica and Zepa.
“The court in The Hague is not bringing in verdicts on the basis of the crimes committed, they rule only in favour of the [Bosnian Serb] Army of Republika Srpska, the Serbian army and Serbia,” she said.
Hedija Kasapovic from the Visegrad victims’ association meanwhile called the acquittal “one big injustice”.
The ICTY’s appeals chamber ruled on Thursday that Perisic was not responsible for the wartime crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb Army in Sarajevo and Srebrenica because it was not under the command of the Yugoslav Army.
It also found him not guilty of failing to punish his subordinates who participated in the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb.
But Bosnian lawyer Vasvija Vidovic said that the verdict was another example of the ICTY prosecution’s weakness.
“It is up to the prosecutor to present evidence that will prove the indictment without reasonable doubt. The indictment was very weak because it is hard to prove that aiding and abetting the [Bosnian Serb Army] is a criminal act,” Vidiovic told Al Jazeera Balkans.