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“I will say what others will not. No one has the right to say that this crime did not happen.”
These are the words of Goran Saric, the former commander of Republika Srpska’s special police brigade, who was acquitted last November by the Bosnian state court of genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.
He was cleared of issuing instructions and exerting control over his deputy Ljubomir Borovcanin, who the Hague Tribunal sentenced to 17 years for crimes in Srebrenica, and of assisting members of a joint criminal enterprise in the commission of genocide, which involved more than 7,000 murders and around 40,000 people being displaced.
In an interview with BIRN ahead of the 24th anniversary of Srebrenica on July 11, Saric said that the crime must not be denied, although he insisted that he did not know who committed it and why it happened, because he was deployed in the Sarajevo area at the time of the massacres.
However, he said that his two units, and his deputy Borovcanin, were present in Srebrenica.
“However, they did not participate in the enclave clean-up operation, but they arrived later with the aim of guarding the road and all the other things. I can say for certain that the police were not engaged in the Srebrenica liberation operation at that time, but came later, on the second or third day – that is what we were trying to prove both in The Hague and in my case, when I was on trial for four years,” Saric said.
The Hague Tribunal, the Bosnian state court and courts in Serbia and Croatia have so far sentenced a total of 47 people to over 700 years, plus four life sentences, for genocide, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed in Srebrenica in July 1995. A number of those who were convicted are former Bosnian Serb police officers.
Saric claimed that he first found out what happened in Srebrenica while being examined by an investigator from The Hague in Banja Luka on July 7, 2000, but that he learned most of it during the trial itself. Although the trial lasted four years, Saric said he still doesn’t know everything.
“The question is, who has his own truth and can anybody competently speak about everything 20 years later?” he asked.
He said he received no report that a crime happened in July 1995, apart from one indicating that a special forces policeman had been killed and several had been injured in subsequent fighting.
“As far as I know from the case in which I was tried, everything was well organised in the beginning,” he said, referring to what he said was the planned transport of Bosniaks from Potocari near Srebrenica to other locations in “a zone that was controlled by the Bosnian Army at that time”.
Saric claimed that the killings started “with a certain event, when a problem arose” – the alleged shooting of a Bosnian Serb policeman by a Bosniak prisoner in a warehouse in the village of Kravica. After that, he said, “the crime happened”.
This version of the Srebrenica massacres – that they were accidentally sparked off by a rebellious prisoner grabbing a gun – is often cited by people who want to play down the organised nature of the killings. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, however, has insisted that the massacres were pre-planned.
Cleared of Sarajevo crimes
Before being acquitted of involvement in the Srebrenica genocide, Saric stood trial for other wartime crimes in Sarajevo.
The state court in November 2014 acquitted Saric, in his previous role as the chief of the police’s Public Security Station in the Centar municipality, of having supervised and participated in the rounding up of men who were detained at the Jagomir psychiatric hospital in Sarajevo’s Nahorevo neighbourhood in 1992.
Speaking about the war years in Sarajevo, Saric said it was a hard time for everyone in the city in which he studied, worked, lived and had his first child.
“Nobody knew what was happening. Nobody had a solution. Regardless of the fact that I was a police official or manager or commander later on in the second phase of the war, I was unable to influence any decisions, any battles, any events,” he said.
“You acted randomly, doing what they commanded you to do and what had to be done during war. It was horrible, God forbid anyone goes through that,” he added.
Saric said he was not aware of what was going on in the city centre, apart from what the media reported, and claimed he learned most things about the crimes in Nahorevo from the indictment.
“Not even today do I know how the eight people got lost or where they disappeared from, except from what the prosecutor was trying to prove – that someone did that under my command. He was not trying to prove that I did it,” he said.
“However, he could not prove it, despite testimonies by 70-odd witnesses. They did not accuse me of having participated in it, they even accused me of having helped the population in Nahorevo. I am happy, I go to the mountain lodge in Nahorevo for coffee, I can go there now,” Saric said.
According to Saric, his indictment was filed without a single interview with the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the police or the state prosecution.
But he said he was only unhappy about the time he spent in custody and the length of the legal proceedings. He was held in custody for several months and spent five years under various measures restricting his freedom of movement, which included house arrest for a year.
“Everything else, in terms of how the case was conducted and their actions, it was their legal right and they should investigate crimes,” he said.
He said the entire process has affected his family and his health.
“I had to work, but going through court proceedings for eight years suspends eight years of your life, suspends your work, family. After all, it was major stress, not only for me, but for every defendant, as well as their family and friends,” he said.