Analysis 05 Oct 12

Convicted War Criminals Run for Office

In the forthcoming local elections in Bosnia on the electoral lists in the towns of Zvornik and Samac include convicted war criminals. 

Amer Jahic

Among the candidates for the municipal elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to be held on October 7, are Branko Grujic, Simo Zaric and Blagoje Simic.

All three of them are convicted war criminals, who have served a combined total of 27 years in prison.

The voters in Zvornik and Samac, which includes refugees who returned after the war, are divided over whether the convicted war criminals should be allowed on the electoral list.

The electoral law in Bosnia and Herzegovina prohibits someone from standing as a candidate if they are currently serving a prison sentence, or if they have failed to to comply with an order to appear before any court for violations of humanitarian law. However, it says nothing about those who have already served their sentences for war crimes.

Some voters believe that the law governing elections is toothless, if it permits war criminals to run for executive office, after serving their sentences, while others remain unconcerned by it. 

Republika Srpska branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, says that Bosnian electoral law insults the victims and puts them in an inferior position in relation to those who have committed crimes.

Debts as a Motive

A Belgrade court sentenced Branko Grujic to six years in prison for crimes committed in the town of Zvornik in the summer of 1992, after the town was taken over by Serb forces.

At the start of the Bosnian war, Grujic was elected as the president of the Provisional Government of the Serb Municipality of Zvornik, when it was established on April 10, 1992.

The Provisional Government made a series of important decisions concerning civilian and military issues, including taking more than 900 Bosniaks from several villages near Zvornik as hostages in 1992, who were later held in inhumane detention centres.

Grujic was found guilty of the forcible transfer of over 1,600 Bosniaks from the village of Kozluk to the territory controlled by the Bosnian army.

Today, Grujic is the chosen candidate of the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, in the municipality of Zvornik.

In an interview with BIRN, Grujic said that the SDS leadership asked him, a few months ago, to run in the elections because “they knew that I have a reputation with the citizens and could win a majority of the votes”.

He says that he was motivated to return to politics, both to find out whether the people still have trust in him, and to service his personal debts.

He owes the state of Serbia around €30,000 [60,000KM] in costs for a court-appointed lawyer who defended him during his war crimes trial.

“I am facing financial ruin. Our family enterprise is in debts. Since a deputy has a salary, I am forced to try for office. Otherwise, I would be retired,” says Grujic.

Mevludin Lupic, a returnee to Zvornik who testified at Grujic’s trial, is frustrated that a convicted war criminal can engage in politics.

“Imagine it, this man is the forerunner. There is a 99% chance that he will be elected as a deputy to the assembly again, and will be able to make decisions about everything that happens in the municipality of Zvornik”, said Lupic.

Grujic still maintains he did nothing wrong, and that “every citizen of Zvornik, whether Serb or Muslim, knows that I was sent to prison for no reason”.

“I was a victim of politics. I had no authority over the army and the police”, he says.

 Ilijaz Sabanovic, a returnee who left Zvornik in April 1992, and returned in 2004, says that he has known Grujic since childhood and that even now he considers him a friend and neighbour.

“I am not going into what happened before. It is over. But the man is a first class friend, neighbour and everything,” said Sabanovic.

Support of the Returnees

Another convicted war criminal on the electoral list, Simo Zaric, the current Deputy Mayor of Samac, was sentenced by the Hague Tribunal, ICTY, to six years in prison for crimes committed in 1992 when he was the Chief of the National Security Service in that city.

According to the ICTY verdict, Bosnian Serbs took control of Samac in April 1992, after which mass arrests of Bosniaks and Croats started.

Zaric was found guilty of taking part in interrogations of illegally detained civilians and also of inciting beatings of prisoners.

“We visit the local communities ... I also went to returnees’s settlements. I think that I have the support of the citizens in our municipality”, Zaric told BIRN, explaining that he returned to politics in order to re-integrate himself into society after serving his sentence.

 “I did not do anything wrong during the war which could label me as a war criminal,” Zaric maintains.

When Zaric was appointed the Deputy Mayor in Samac in February 2010, Sulejman Tihic, the chairman of the predominantly Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, who testified against him before The Hague Tribunal, said that the Election Law should be changed to prevent convicted war criminals from holding political office.

Ferid Mujakovic, a returnee to Samac, says that he does not mind that Zaric and Blagoje Simic, another convict running for office in Samac, have returned to politics after they served their sentences for war crimes.

“They have been rehabilitated properly. The returnees have a very positive attitude towards both of them,” said Mujakovic.

Blagoje Simic was the most senior government official in Samac in 1992, and as such, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for war crimes by the ICTY. The ICTY found him guilty of persecution of Bosniaks in Samac.

Simic was not available for the interview when contacted through the SDS’s Municipal Board.

Apart from the people who served their sentences for war crimes there are a further three candidates – Gojko Klickovic, Petar Dmitrovic and Milan Ninkovic - with a dubious war time past running for the posts of mayor and deputies in the municipalities of Krupa na Uni, Bijeljina and Doboj.

Gojko Klickovic was initially acquitted of war crimes by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the first-instance verdict was quashed and a retrial is currently ongoing. He is charged with persecution and murders of non-Serbs in Bosanska Krupa.

Petar Dmitrovic is currently on trial for crimes committed in the detention camp “Batkovic” near Bijeljina and is running for deputy mayor in Bijeljina, and Milan Ninkovic, who is also suspected of war crimes in Doboj is running for office in that town.

Aleksandra Letic from the Republika Srpska branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, argues that the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina must be changed.

“A state that aspires to European integration should not permit convicted war criminals to find their way onto the electoral lists,” says Letic.


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