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The hague: before and after


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THE HAGUE: BEFORE AND AFTER

Natasa Kandic, 4 February 2002


For a time following the change of government in Serbia and Yugoslavia, the new leaders were not inconvenienced by The Hague. The international community had understanding for their explanation that The Hague was not a priority, and there can be no doubt that the reintegration of the country in the international community, it's readmission to the United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, took precedence. But, once this was achieved, the question arose of Yugoslavia's compliance with the obligations that come with membership of these organizations, and the requirements of others. At the international level, The Hague is an obligation that has to be fulfilled if the Serbian and Yugoslav authorities are to prove their commitment to democratic government, the rule of law, and human rights. Internally, it is perceived as a coercion, a precondition for economic aid or joining some intergovernmental organization. None of the Serbian, Montenegrin or Yugoslav leaders has told the nation why The Hague is an issue, what it was that the previous authorities did to warrant the indictments against top Serbian and Yugoslav leaders, why Slobodan Milošević was surrendered to The Hague, why The Hague continues making demands.

Disclosure of mass graves and the surrender of the former Yugoslav President

In such circumstances, the public was shaken by the Serbian government's disclosure of the existence of secret mass graves containing the remains of Kosovo Albanians killed during the NATO bombing. For the first time, people were able to see for themselves the evidence of crimes committed by the Serbian forces, and refrigerated trucks full of bodies of women and children became a leading topic. The authorities' admission that graves at locations known to them contained the remains of about 800 Kosovo Albanians appeared to denote an acceptance of responsibility.

In its turn, the surrender of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević seemed to confirm the readiness of the new government to make a clean break with the policies and practice of its predecessor. Regrettably, however, it proved to be only pragmatism at work. The Serbian government told the nation that surrendering Milošević was a prerequisite for the holding of the Donors' Conference and for financial assistance for the state budget and social welfare, and the mass graves slipped into the background, forgotten by both the authorities and the public. The exhumations were carried out behind a wall of reticence and, eight months after the unearthing of 350 bodies of Kosovo Albanians at a police training ground in Batajnica just outside Belgrade, the results of the investigations have not been made public. No more questions are asked in Serbia about mass graves, the people whose remains are buried in them, their names, how they died, who gave the orders, who carried them out, and who covered up the evidence.

Authorities and media solicitous toward indicted Serbian President

With the announcement of the date of Slobodan Milošević's trial, The Hague came to the forefront again. Serbian government members openly, as if it was some kind of business arrangement, said the international community, in particular the United States, was putting pressure to bear on them to hand over another three or four indictees, after which approval would be given to try others before courts in this country. The Serbian Premier publicly called on Mladić, Karadžić and other accused to surrender voluntarily to The Hague and thereby help the Serbs to shed the burden of collective guilt. He spoke as if this was something technical, without going into the essence. Neither he nor other politicians are willing to say anything about the practices of the previous regime, from Croatia to Kosovo. The Hague indictments hold Milošević and others responsible for a "joint criminal enterprise." Instead of launching a public debate and bringing to justice other known participants in numerous joint criminal enterprises, the Serbian and federal authorities, citing supposedly reliable sources, maintain that The Hague is not really interested in some of the people it had indicted, in particular Milan Milutinović, who is still the Serbian President, and claim that he was indicted by mistake. Owing to this solicitous attitude on the part of both politicians and the media, Milutinović is still taking an active part in Serbia's public affairs. No one recalls Rambouillet and his contribution to the NATO air campaign, his facile statement that Yugoslavia would rather be bombed than sign the proposed agreement.



Evidence of Kosovo crimes doubted

The decision of the Appeals Chamber to join the three indictments against Milošević was received by the Serbian and federal authorities as an indication that The Hague was not prepared for Milošević's trial and had no evidence on the Kosovo crimes. Even some non-governmental organizations shared this view. Dragoljub Mićunović, Speaker of the Federal Parliament's Chamber of Citizens, and a long-standing advocate of democracy, sounded the alarm, saying it was the highest-priority national task to defend the former Yugoslav president as well as the state itself from The Hague's unfounded accusations. Saying that Milošević had not been a lone hand and had held high office and acted in the name of Yugoslavia, Mićunović explained that the former president's conviction of genocide could not be allowed as that would have consequences on the state and its citizens. Several non-governmental organizations expressed concern over the war reparations Yugoslavia might have to pay if the Bosnian and Croatian submissions to the International Court of Justice ended with the Court ruling that genocide was involved. No one found it necessary to explain that reparations would in fact mean paying for the crimes committed against others, that Germany for years paid reparations to Yugoslavia and other countries, and that the Bosnian and Croatian government have openly said they have no intention of withdrawing their accusations of genocide because the Serbian authorities are shielding war criminals from being called to account. So, instead of making public the facts about the crimes and the responsibility for them, Serbia is forming a team to defend both the accused and the state, and to observe the trials at The Hague.



Defense - denying or admitting the facts

The accused, the state and its citizens cannot be defended by passing over in silence the victims exhumed from the mass graves, the existence of other graves, or protecting many known war criminals in Serbia and Montenegro from being brought to justice. On the contrary, it is in the interests of the people of Serbia and Montenegro to know what happened in Kosovo, in Bosnia and in Croatia. It is in the national interest of Serbia that its people know about the grave human rights violations in the past, and their right to know should be ensured by the new government, which promised democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.

Milošević's trial on 12 February, or perhaps at some later date, will begin with Kosovo. He does not recognize the Tribunal, refuses to answer its questions but still defends himself with his speeches. The trial will not be a fair one if the others indicted along with him and accused of complicity in the "joint criminal enterprise" are not tried too. Milošević could not have planned and carried out everything that was done in Kosovo without Nikola Šainović, the former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister, Milan Milutunović, still the Serbian President, Vlajko Stoiljković, the former Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs, and Dragoljub Ojdanić, the former Yugoslav Army Chief of General Staff, and many others, known and unknown. He needs help not to be the only one to be held responsible and bear the burden of guilt. This is something that the hundreds of thousands who gave him their votes and supported his policies should ponder, as well as the present Serbian government, which did not overthrow him because of the crimes and ten years of war but because he was losing those wars and territory, and had brought the country to the brink of economic collapse.

After The Hague

Only the architects of the criminal policies and practices will be tried at The Hague, not those at middle and lower levels of command responsibility, commanders of groups set up specifically for criminal purposes, or individuals against whom evidence was gathered in the course of different investigations. A new kind of cooperation will then begin, with The Hague delivering tons of accusatory material. National courts will receive thousands upon thousand of pages of documentation on the criminal responsibility of thousands of people implicated in the crimes. What then? Who will find the courage and strength to look into the files on the commanding officers and members of the "Red Berets," Special Police Units, Yugoslav Army Special Forces, a variety of criminal groups, and numerous individuals for whom looting and killing was a part-time job? That is why The Hague is important and in our interest, in Serbia's interest. The Hague has put an end to impunity for war crimes committed in the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia, and is still irreplaceable. But whether or not war crimes trials will be held before courts in Serbia and Montenegro will not be decided by The Hague. That is a political decision which has to be made by the national authorities. Milošević is no longer on the political scene, but his legacy is a world of darkness inhabited by many who are in the present political elite. It is up to the Serbian, Montenegrin and federal authorities to decide to act, with The Hague affording the greatest measure of protection against the falsification of history.



The public must know

It is common knowledge that all the state institutions during the Milošević era were harnessed into keeping him in power, that the real power was in his hands alone irrespective of his official position at any particular moment, and that he was supported and helped by an informal group whose composition changed in dependence on how effectively and obediently it achieved the goals he set and the plans he made. General Aleksandar Vasiljević was a member of this group, of closely associated with it, when the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia broke out in 1991. He is the only one to resurface eight years later, this time in the group of those named in the Kosovo indictment who, like those in the Croatia and Bosnia indictments, are accused of planning, preparing and participating in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at the creation of territories under their (Serbian) control.

During the Kosovo conflict, Milošević was the president of Yugoslavia and commander-in-chief of its armed forces and, under the law, also had command authority over the police and all armed units that are subordinate to the Yugoslav Army during a state of war.

The Kosovo indictment against Milošević states that the identification papers of at least five Albanians murdered in a cafe in Suva Reka on 26 March 1999 were found on remains exhumed from one of the two mass graves on the Special Anti-Terrorist Units training ground in Batajnica.

In spite of reliable indications that the remains of the Berisha family were recovered from the other mass grave, the Serbian Public Prosecutor's Office took no steps to determine who murdered over 40 members of this extended family, mainly women and children, and who ordered the crime to be covered up by transferring the bodies to Serbia. An investigation was necessary, among other things, because survivors of the massacre allege they recognized a State Security Service inspector from Suva Reka among the perpetrators. The inspector now lives in Kragujevac, central Serbia, a free man.

According to the Kosovo indictment, the papers of at least seven men who were last seen in the Kosovo village of Meje on 27 April 1999 were found in the Batajnica mass graves. In this case too, the Prosecutor's Office failed to take action to establish who was responsible for killing some 300 men at Meje near Djakovica. These men were taken out of a column of people from 20 Albanian villages who were driven from their homes by Serbian security forces and forced to flee to Albania.



Serbian government agencies know the identity of the police officers who killed Fehmi Agani, a distinguished Kosovo Albanian politician, during the NATO bombing. It is known that Investigating Judge Danica Marinković conducted investigations into three Kosovo Polje police officers and then ordered them to be released. Agani was killed in the presence of the Kosovo Polje police chief.

The Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs has information on persons who ordered and carried out the liquidation of three Albanians, the Bitiqi brothers, on 8 July 1999, after they were taken from the Prokuplje prison in Serbia. The remains of the Bitiqis were exhumed from a mass grave located on the training ground of the Special Anti-terrorist Units at Petrovo Selo, eastern Serbia. An investigation into these persons has not been instituted to this day.


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