News 09 Oct 17

Srebrenica Commander Naser Oric Acquitted of War Crimes

Naser Oric, the Bosnian Army’s former commander in Srebrenica, was found not guilty of killing three Bosnian Serb prisoners of war in 1992 - a verdict that sparked strong reactions from war victims.

Admir Muslimovic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Naser Oric (centre) outside court on Monday. Photo: BIRN.

The Bosnian state court on Monday acquitted Naser Oric and former Bosnian Army soldier Sabahudin Muhic of killing three Serb prisoners of war in the Bratunac and Srebrenica area.

The prosecution had alleged that Oric, who was a commander of Bosnian Army territorial defence units, and Muhic, whom was his subordinate, killed the Serb captives in the villages of Zalazje, Lolici and Kunjerac in 1992.

But presiding judge Saban Maksumic said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Oric and Muhic committed the killings.

“Justice has won,” Oric shouted as he left the court in Sarajevo.

“Anyone who followed this trial could only expect this verdict. We are satisfied, but this is not the end, as the prosecution will probably appeal,” said Oric’s lawyer, Lejla Covic.

Explaining the verdict, judge Maksumic said that testimony given by the key prosecution witness, a protected witness codenamed O-1, was contradictory.

“The prosecution must have been aware of the contradictions in O-1’s statements and the testimony he gave in court. Despite this, the prosecution based their entire case on his words,” said Maksumic.

The judge explained that O-1 gave entirely different descriptions of all three killings during the investigation statement and in court.

“Speaking about the killing of Slobodan Ilic, O-1 gave three statements. Before the judges, he said he saw the killing, while in the investigation he made no mention of the village of Zalajzje or the defendants,” said Maksumic.

On the second count of the indictment, the judge noted that O-1 said that Oric and Muhic fired a burst from an automatic rifle into the victim, while an expert said that the deceased prisoner only had one wound from a single shot.

Maksumic said that O-1 also contradicted himself about the third killing in the indictment.

“While in an earlier statement he did not speak about the killing, in court he said that he saw the whole thing,” said the judge.

Significant numbers of police were deployed outside the court for the verdict.

The case was highly controversial because Oric is seen as a hero by many Bosniaks for his role in defending Srebrenica in the years before the 1995 massacres, while some Serbs have claimed that the charges against him should have been more severe.

Naser Oric leaving court on Monday. Video: BIRN.

Serb war victims’ representatives were present in court for the verdict but left as soon as Oric was declared not guilty.

On leaving the courtroom, one of them told BIRN that “Oric is a still a war criminal in our eyes”, and asked: “How are we supposed to live together after this?”

“Everyone only cares about what happened in July 1995 [when Bosnian Serb forces massacred Bosniaks from Srebrenica]. Where is the justice for us?” asked another Serb, Radojka Filipovic.

But representatives of Bosniak victims’ associations and members of the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ group welcomed Oric and Muhic as they left the court.

“I only hope that the attacks on Oric will finally stop now,” said Kada Hotic from the Mothers of Srebrenica.

Before the trial started, Oric’s defence asked the UN tribunal in The Hague to order a halt to the proceedings against Oric, arguing that he had already been tried for and acquitted of war crimes in Srebrenica by the Hague court and should not stand trial for the same crimes twice.

The Hague Tribunal rejected the request, with the judge saying that “the murder charges in the Bosnian indictment fundamentally differ from the murder charges in the Hague indictment with respect to the alleged victims and the nature, time and location of the alleged crime”.

Monday’s verdict can be appealed.

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