News 30 May 13

Serbian Security Chiefs Acquitted of War Crimes

The Hague Tribunal has acquitted former Serbian security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic of controlling the most notorious combat units that fought in the Balkan wars.

Denis Dzidic, Marija Ristic
The Hague, Belgrade

The Hague Tribunal on Thursday acquitted Stanisic, the former head of the Serbian interior ministry's security service, and his right-hand man, Franko Simatovic, commander of the ministry's Special Operations Unit, of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at forcibly removing Bosniaks and Croatians from large parts of Bosnia and Croatia from 1991 to 1995.

Presiding judge Alphons Orie said that despite the fact that Stanisic and Simatovic organised, supplied, financed, supported and directed the training of Serbian security units during wartime, their support was of a general nature, and thus not aimed directly at committing war crimes.

“There is a possibility that Stanisic and Simatovic’s actions were aimed at creating and maintaining Serb control over large portions of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Orie.

But he said that “it is not possible to conclude that the defendants shared the aim of the alleged joint criminal enterprise of forcibly removing the non-Serb civilian population”.

The Hague judges found that Stanisic and Simatovic were not part of a joint criminal enterprise alongside former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, Croatian Serb commander Milan Martic, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb ex-president Biljana Plavsic.

The Hague prosecution, said Orie, failed to prove that Stanisic and Simatovic served as a channel that connected all those allegedly involved in war crimes during the period.

“For this reason, the chamber cannot conclude that Stanisic and Simatovic served as a channel for sharing information between members of the alleged joint criminal enterprise,” said Orie.

The Hague judges also concluded that Stanisic and Simatovic were not guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against Bosniaks or Croats.

“The trial chamber concluded that Stanisic and Simatovic organised the training and financing of [Serbian] Red Berets units who took part in crimes in Bosanski Samac and Doboj [in Bosnia], but the majority of judges do not believe that this help was concretely aimed at committing crimes, but more generally towards maintaining Serb control,” said Orie.

Commenting on charges in the original indictment which alleged that Stanisic and Simatovic assisted crimes committed by Serbian paramilitary units known as the ‘Scorpions’ and ‘Arkan’s Tigers’, the judges said that the defendants only had “weak connections to these groups”.

The judges ordered their immediate release from the UN detention centre in the Netherlands.

Stanisic’s lawyer, Wayne Jordash, said that his client was “in shock from happiness” and that the Hague Tribunal had “confirmed its capacity to deliver justice”.

He added that Stanisic was eager to return to his life after more than a decade in the Hague’s detention unit, and said that the ex-security boss would return to Belgrade on Friday.

But a group of wartime victims from Bosnia who were at the Tribunal symbolically showed off white handkerchiefs in an expression of dissatisfaction with the acquittal.

“We expected a guilty verdict, knowing the evidence. We know Stanisic and Simatovic are directly involved in crimes. The only thing left is to hope for is changes in the appeals process,” said one of them, Murat Tahirovic.

Commenting on the verdict, Serbia’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, vowed that Belgrade would continue to seek the real perpetrators of the crimes.

“The trial chamber found no connection between the accused and the direct perpetrators of the crimes,” Vukcevic said in a written statement.

“However, many of the crimes committed in this indictment are the subject of investigations by the Serbian war crimes prosecution. We are trying to reveal the direct perpetrators and those who ordered [the crimes], and we will ask for all the evidence from the ICTY to be forwarded to us,” he said.

The verdict can be appealed.

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