Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scorpions jailed for Srebrenica crimes

Serbia's war crimes court has sentenced four men to twenty years prison for their part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The four former members of Serbia's paramilitary "Scorpions" force were found guilty after video footage showed they killed at least six people during the massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.

The former commander of the Scorpions unit, Slobodan Medic, and his chief accomplice, Branislav Medic, were each given 20 years in jail. The only defendant to have confessed to the crime, Pera Petrasevic, was given 13 years. A fourth defendant was given five years while a fifth was acquitted. Presiding judge Gordana Petrovic said “Slobodan Medic ordered the three defendants and two others to execute the prisoners, take them away from the site and make it seem as if they had been killed in conflict.” The video that implicated the men showed them taunting Bosnian youths about their virginity before shooting them in the back as they lay in a ditch. Relatives of the victims expressed disappointment that none had received the 40 year maximum sentences.

Srebrenica is Europe’s largest mass murder since World War II. In 2004 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judicially recognised the massacre as genocide. Judge Theodor Meron, President of ICTY made a speech later that year at Potocari Memorial Cemetery where many of the victims were buried. In the speech Meron stated it plainly “Bosnian Serb Army harboured genocidal intent against the Bosnian Muslim people who sought safety in the enclave of Srebrenica, and that these officials acted upon that intent to carry out a deliberate and massive massacre of the Muslims in Srebrenica”

While Judge Meron called the massacre genocide, others have labelled it “gendercide”. Gendercide is gender-selective mass killing. Other examples include the 1988 Montreal massacre where 14 women students at the École Polytechnique were systematically killed by a lone gunman screaming "I hate feminists." In Srebenica, while the international community and UN peacekeepers did nothing; Serb forces separated civilian men from women and killed the menfolk in their thousands.

The conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina began in 1992 and featured large-scale ethnic cleansing and genocidal atrocities from the outset. In April 1992 Serbian forces tortured and killed 350 Bosnian men in a gymnasium in the village of Bratunac near Srebrenica. But they were not able to take Srebrenica itself. The city was defended by Naser Oric, a Rambo-like figure whose troops (and associated squads of civilian torbari, or "bag people") inflicted a number of smaller atrocities on Serb villages around the Srebrenica pocket. Oric’s forces managed to establish an enclave around the town, but the Serbs gradually tightened the noose.

General Ratko Mladić led the Serbian army during the war. Mladić made it plain that he held a special grudge against the men of Srebrenica. He allowed women and children to be evacuated from the town before shutting off the refugee flow. Desperately, the UN Security Council declared Srebenica a “safe area” but only had 500 Dutch peacekeepers in the town to back up the declaration. Finally in July 1995, Mladić’s army entered the UN safe area. They got little resistance from the disarmed defenders and the UN.

Thousands of Srebrenica men fled the town seeking protection within the UN compound at Potočari. Serbian soldiers surrounded them and began setting houses and haystacks on fire. As the day progressed, Serb forces gathered the refugees and began systematically murdering the men. French policeman Jean-Rene Ruez told The Hague tribunal in 1996 what evidence he collected from witnesses. Serb forces killed and tortured refugees at will while Streets were littered with corpses, he said. Rivers were red with blood and many people committed suicide to avoid having their noses, lips and ears chopped off. At least 8,000 died and 25,000 were forcibly repatriated.

General Mladić remains at large with an outstanding international arrest warrant against him. While many claim he is being protected by the Serbian army, Belgrade newspaper Vecernje Novosti said he was just one step ahead of his pursuers in a "feverish manhunt" by police. In May 2006 the EU broke off membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro over Belgrade's failure to deliver Mladić to the war crimes tribunal.

Situated in the far east of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Srebrenica was founded as a mining town. The name means “silver mine” in Serbian but nowadays only salt is mined here. Srebenica is now part of an entity known as the Republika Srpska. The Republika is not a true republic but rather a Serb-governed enclave of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The boundary line between it and the Muslim controlled rest of the country runs along the military front lines as they existed at the end of the war.

But now the Muslim community now want to change the boundary. Last week Srebrenica’s municipal assembly adopted a resolution demanding partition from the Republic of Srpska. Serb members left the session ahead of the vote in protest saying the assembly had no mandate to violate the Constitutional order of the Republic of Srpska and breach the Dayton Agreement. But Rizo Tabaković from the Party of the Democratic Action that sponsored the resolution, said that "the partition request was a logical move in light of the ICJ judgment, while mirroring Srebrenica's current status."

While politicians still argue about the boundary, others mourn the massacre. Some are sufferers of the syndrome known as "Survivors' Guilt" which was first identified after the Holocaust. Emir Suljagic was a Bosniak teenager when the war began. He was a translator for the UN in Srebenica when captured by General Mladić’s men. Mladić took Suljagic's ID card during questioning. Suljagic had the courage to ask for his ID back; Mladic agreed and his life was saved. While he survived, others were not so lucky. Nura Alispahic saw her 16-year-old son being killed in the court video. "Whatever the ruling, my child is not here," she said "These people will leave jail one day, but my child will never come out of the ground."

No comments: