Alen Simic was four when he was seriously wounded and his parents killed by shelling in the Bosnian city of Tuzla in 1993 – and as he told BIRN, the perpetrators have still not been brought to justice.
“I will not speak about my feelings. All that lost all purpose long ago,” Alen Simic, now 30, told BIRN in an interview 24 years after his parents Ivo and Aida were killed in the shelling of Tuzla’s Stupine neighbourhood in May 1993.
Simic said that he has lost hope of anyone ever being brought to justice for the attack. “Speaking about it is exerting effort for nothing,” he insisted. “Nothing is going to change, nobody will ever answer for it.”
Shortly after the projectile hit the Simics’ apartment, their neighbour Anto Maric came and found Aida and Ivo dead, and then drove the weeping Alen to hospital.
“Those were terrifying moments. Their apartment was full of smoke. I took a blanket and tried to extinguish the fire with it. I saw Alen, who was crying. We managed to save Alen,” Maric recalled.
Domestic courts have still not convicted anyone of this or many other shelling incidents in Tuzla during wartime, in which over 100 civilians were killed. Despite the fact that the Bosniak-majority city was declared a protected zone by the United Nations in June 1993, it was subsequently targeted by Bosnian Serb forces.
Only one person has been convicted of responsibility for a single attack, the shelling of the Kapija area of town, in which more than 70 people died in 1995.
Former Bosnian Serb Army general Novak Djukic was found guilty of ordering the attack, but he fled the country and is now at large in Belgrade.
There is no single database of the civilians killed in Tuzla between 1992 and 1995, but the Truth, Justice, Reconciliation Foundation estimates that there were more than 200 of them, including those who died in the shelling incidents.
The foundation told BIRN that it has reminded the Bosnian state prosecution on several occasions that those responsible for these crimes have not been prosecuted.
“Back in 2007, we filed a criminal complaint against eight [Yugoslav People’s Army] officers for artillery fire on Tuzla during the war, which targeted numerous victims. The prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not done anything about it,” said the foundation’s president, Sinan Alic.
He added that “all the state prosecution has done is to notify us, a short while ago, that the investigation into [Yugoslav People’s Army officers] Veljko Kadijevic, Milutin Kukanjac and Novica Simic was terminated due to their deaths”.
Alic said that when appearing as witnesses at other trials, some of the officers have publicly admitted responsibility for the shelling of Tuzla, but that was not a sufficient basis for the prosecution to open an investigation.
“This happened in Belgrade at the trial of [former Bosnian policeman] Ilija Jurisic for an attack on the ‘Tuzla Convoy’ on May 15, 1993,” he said.
“When asked by the judge whether he ordered the shelling of Tuzla, former Yugoslav People’s Army officer and commander of the Husinska Buna military barracks in Tuzla, Mile Dubajic, answered affirmatively. But that was not enough for someone in Bosnia and Herzegovina to open an investigation into him,” he added.
Dubajic was one of the eight officers whose names are listed in the criminal complaint filed by the Truth, Justice, Reconciliation Foundation.
He is now a military pensioner and lives in the Serbian town of Indjija, and confirmed to BIRN that there is no current investigation into Yugoslav People’s Army officers for the shelling of Tuzla.
He did not deny the shelling of Tuzla, but insisted that justifiable military targets were hit.
“I feel no responsibility for that, neither command nor human, because each of my artillery operations on Tuzla had a justified military goal. Everything was done in line with the rules of military service,” Dubajic said.
“I still keep the shooting coordinates for those military targets. I never targeted hospitals, schools and other facilities where civilians stayed,” he added.
He said his only time in court was when he appeared at Ilija Jurisic’s trial in Belgrade.
“They invited me as a witness and I came. As for other things, I have neither been called from Serbia nor Bosnia and Herzegovina with regards to any investigations,” he said.
The Bosnian state prosecution told BIRN that after the conviction of Novak Djukic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Ozren Tactical Group, for ordering the Tuzla Kapija attack, other cases are ongoing as well.
“Besides that case, we are working on other cases connected to the killing of civilians during the shelling of Tuzla,” said state prosecution spokesperson Boris Grubesic. He did not specify who the suspects are in these cases.
Djukic was sentenced to 20 years in jail by the Bosnian state court in June 2014 for the Tuzla Kapija attack, but did not turn up to serve his sentence in Bosnia, claiming he was undergoing medical treatment in Serbia.
Bosnia issued an international arrest warrant for him in October 2014, but he cannot be extradited to Bosnia because it has no extradition treaty with Serbia.
Serbia was then asked to take over the enforcement of the verdict under a legal cooperation agreement between the two countries.
However, the Higher Court in Belgrade has postponed hearings on the case on several occasions, sparking criticism from the UN court in The Hague and its chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz. In the meantime, Djukic remains free.
No verdicts, but new plaques
This year, the Truth, Justice, Reconciliation Foundation began collecting data on the exact number of civilians killed in Tuzla during the war.
At the same time, it began putting up memorial plaques at locations where civilians whose data has been collected so far were killed, as part of a project entitled ‘No One Should Be Forgotten’.
The plaques list the victims’ full names and dates of death, and name the armed force whose members fired the projectiles that killed them.
Slavko Pericevic, a member of the managing board of the Truth, Justice, Reconciliation Foundation, said the memorial plaque project was important because it puts the facts on display.
“These plaques will only contain facts proved by courts and what domestic and international courts said in their verdicts – that the Bosnian Serb Army and its units committed that act by shelling Tuzla, which was a protected zone,” Pericevic said.