Srebrenica Suspects Find Safe Haven in Serbia
This post is also available in: Bosnian
“They loaded us onto two buses, after tying our hands first. I saw that we arrived at some houses and that farm in Branjevo. There was the army, the killers, and you could hear gunshots. They took us out – you could see death with your own eyes… No more life.”
This is the testimony of a protected witness codenamed Z2 before a Bosnian court in 2011, recalling being taken from Srebrenica by forces led by Ratko Mladic after the Bosnian Serb Army captured the town in July 1995.
At least 1,000 Bosniaks would end up being killed at Branjevo farm by members of the notorious 10th Sabotage Detachment of the Bosnian Serb Army, according to Bosnian court that sentenced five of the unit’s members to a total of 122 years in prison.
The detachment’s commander Milorad Pelemis, however, was not among them – he was in Serbia, out of the reach of Bosnian prosecution.
“The Bosnian prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for [Pelemis], he is on an Interpol red notice, but he keeps appearing in Serbian media very often,”’ Ivana Zanic, the legal team coordinator at the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO, told BIRN.
Indeed, Pelemis has made many public appearances over the years, denying the accusations against him as well as insisting that other Srebrenica mass murders didn’t happen.
In 2015, Pelemis told the trial of Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that neither of them ordered the shootings at Branjevo.
“I did not participate in selecting the [fighters] and issuing them with the task,” Pelemis told the court.
Like Pelemis, at least eight more Bosnian Serbs wanted or linked to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide have fled Bosnia and Herzegovina for Serbia, where the Belgrade-based war crimes prosecutor’s office has charged only one of them, while the Serbian authorities ignore calls for action from Bosnia.
The Humanitarian Law Centre has filed criminal complaints to the Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office against Pelemis and 11 others which it accuses of involvement in the Srebrenica genocide.
The HLC has published a file on the 10th Sabotage Detachment alleging that its members killed 1,200 Srebrenica Bosniaks in Branjevo farm on the orders of Pelemis and Dragomir Pecanac, Ratko Mladic’s personal adjutant.
It also accused Pelemis and Colonel Petar Salapura of ordering a mass execution in the village of Bisina on July 23, 1995, when members of the detachment allegedly killed at least 39 Bosniaks.
“To this day, we don’t have information about whether the war crimes prosecutor is acting on our criminal complaint,” Zanic said.
BIRN asked the Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office about this and other cases, but received no reply by the time of publication.
BIRN also tried to reach Pelemis for comment, but without success.
At least nine genocide suspects free in Serbia
Pelemis is only one of several Bosnian Serb fighters who are either wanted in Bosnia, but not being extradited, or against whom criminal complaints have been filed in Serbia that the authorities do not appear to be addressing.
The Bosnian prosecution warned in 2016 that Mladic’s former adjutant Dragomir Pecanac was in Serbia, and another member of the 10th Sabotage Detachment, Zoran Obrenovic.
“In the interests of justice, we call on the Serbian judiciary to either prosecute these suspects or extradite them to Bosnia,” the prosecution said.
The president of Bosnia’s Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, Murat Tahirovic, believes that Serbia has shown no desire to cooperate with Bosnia on war crimes prosecutions, despite the fact that the two countries’ prosecutions signed an agreement to do so back in 2013.
“The agreement signed between the prosecutors is just to satisfy… the European Union,” Tahirovic told BIRN.
Even when prosecutions are launched, the suspects are not charged with genocide, as Serbia does not accept this definition of the Srebrenica massacres, he added.
Serbia also does not prosecute suspects for involvement in an international conflict, as Belgrade does not accept that it participated in the Bosnian war. According to the Belgrade authorities, the war in Bosnia was an internal conflict in which Serbia as a foreign state did not take part.
Ivana Zanic said that Pecanac and Obrenovic are among the ex-soldiers about whom the HLC filed a criminal complaint to the Serbian prosecution.
According to the HLC dossier on the 10th Reconnaissance Detachment, five of its former members who have not been prosecuted are living in Serbia.
The Bosnian prosecution believes that at least four more Bosnian Serb Army ex-servicemen wanted by Sarajevo on genocide charges are hiding in Serbia.
Among them are Borislav Stojsic and Rajko Drakulic, who were charged in January this year with assisting the imprisonment and execution of Bosniak men from Srebrenica and forcefully relocating women and children in July of 1995.
They were charged together with Mile Kosoric and Momcilo Tesic, whose trial in Sarajevo began in June.
The Bosnian war crimes prosecution also charged Svetozar Kosoric in 2016 for aiding the Srebrenica genocide by finding locations for the temporary imprisonment and execution of Bosniak men, then helping organise the transport of women and children.
Kosoric is a resident of Serbia although he is a Bosnian citizen, according to the Bosnian prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The wartime Interior Minister of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, Tomislav Kovac, was also charged with genocide in 2017.
According to the indictment, police units under Kovac’s command participated in the capture of Bosniak men and boys, their imprisonment, transport, and mass executions at several locations.
Kovac has not shown up for hearings, however, as he moved to Serbia, where he also holds citizenship.
Murat Tahirovic is not optimistic about the future, saying that cooperation between Sarajevo and Belgrade has visibly decreased in the past five or six years.
“You could say there is cooperation in the form of friendship between the prosecutors of Serbia and Bosnia, they sit down and drink coffee together, but there is no real cooperation,” Tahirovic said.
BIRN contacted the Bosnian and Serbian prosecutors’ offices for comment, but received no reply by the time of publication.
Justice in Serbia slow for Srebrenica victims
One member of the 10th Reconnaissance Detachment was convicted by a Serbian court – but it was the result of a plea bargain, and the light sentence left Bosnian prosecutors feeling bitter.
Ex-soldier Brano Gojkovic was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 after admitting he took part in executing 800 Bosniaks from Srebrenica, in an incident that the Bosnian war crimes prosecution called “one of the cruellest executions during the Srebrenica genocide”.
“We are especially unhappy that Gojkovic did not testify within his plea deal and that the plea agreement was made soon after Bosnia filed an extradition request. Families of Srebrenica victims have also said that they are unhappy with the sentence,” the Bosnian prosecution said in a statement.
It added that prosecuting Gojkovic before a Bosnian court would have “contributed to justice”, because other members of the 10th Detachment have been sentenced to several decades of prison in Bosnia.
Gojkovic is the only man to have been convicted of Srebrenica crimes by a Serbian court apart from four members of the Scorpions paramilitary unit – Slobodan Medic, Branislav Medic, Pero Petrasevic and Aleksandar Medic – who were jailed for shooting dead six Bosniaks, whose murders they also filmed.
Currently there is only one trial for Srebrenica-related crimes ongoing before the Serbian courts – the trial for the massacre in the village of Kravica, where over 1,300 Bosniaks were killed in an agricultural warehouse in July 1995.
Nedeljko Milidragovic, Aleksa Golijanin, Milivoje Batinica, Aleksandar Dacevic, Bora Miletic, Jovan Petrovic, Dragomir Parovic and Vidosav Vasic are accused of committing a war crime by killing Bosniak prisoners who were captured after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.
The Bosnian prosecution previously launched genocide indictments against Milidragovic and Golijanin, but couldn’t arrest them because they have been living in Serbia since the war in Bosnia ended in 1995.
The families of victims coming to Serbia for the hearings feel let down by the process. A representative of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, Kada Hotic, called the trial at Belgrade Higher Court a “circus”.
“This court does not want [the criminals] prosecuted, otherwise it would have returned them to Bosnia. But they found a safe haven in Serbia, which embraces and protects them,” Hotic told BIRN.
Her husband, son, and two brothers perished in the Srebrenica genocide, along with many more members of her extended family.
Tahirovic was also critical of the Kravica trial, which opened in 2017 and has since suffered numerous delays, saying that the Serbian prosecution is handling the cases it has taken over from Bosnia in a “tragi-comic fashion”.
“The Kravica case… is stalled in every way, just like they don’t want to ever finish it,” Tahirovic said.