Babic Death: Unanswered Questions

Results of investigation into Serb leader’s suicide expected soon.

Babic Death: Unanswered Questions

Results of investigation into Serb leader’s suicide expected soon.

The lawyer for former Serb rebel leader Milan Babic said this week that he did not believe that his client committed suicide because of threats against his family.

German advocate Peter Michael Mueller told IWPR that Babic - who was found dead in the United Nations detention unit on March 5, having apparently taken his own life - was “a very intelligent and deliberating man, and was not prone to make sudden decisions”.

Tribunal spokesperson Alexandra Milenov told IWPR that she expected the results of an inquiry in Babic’s death, being carried out under the auspices of the tribunal’s deputy president Judge Kevin Parker, to be released within the next few days.

Media speculation has focused on the theory that the Serb leader - who had previously testified against Milosevic, Momcilo Krajisnik and was only days away from completing his evidence in the trial of former political ally Milan Martic - was receiving threats against his family who were being kept in hiding.

Babic’s wife and children were too afraid to attend his Serbian Orthodox funeral, which attracted about 500 mourners in Belgrade on March 21, and could only express their regret by letter.

In January 2004, Babic confessed to persecuting Croats on political, racial and religious grounds while president of Croatia’s Serb-held Krajina region. Testifying against members of the Serbian political regime was a condition of a plea-agreement, which saw him sentenced to 13 years.

When asked about ongoing security measures for Babic’s family, Mueller said, “If they still believed protection was appropriate, then it would continue.”

But he disputes the threats had intensified. “There had always been, for many years, a general threat, ever since he testified openly in trial proceedings against Milosevic,” he said.

“Threats would be the last thing I would expect [as a reason for suicide]. If he was being threatened, his first job would be to contact me, as he had done in the past. We discussed this issue very openly,” said Mueller, adding that in the weeks leading up to Babic’s death he had received no such complaint.

But he hit out at security procedures at The Hague, saying he was “amazed and stunned” to hear that Babic had managed to kill himself at the detention facility. Guards checked on him every 30 minutes but did not have him under constant video surveillance.

Less than a week after Babic’s suicide, Milosevic was also found dead in his cell at the tribunal’s Scheveningen prison facility.

Milenov, however, told IWPR that the tribunal “certainly tends to the security of all the detainees under its care”.

Those who plead guilty at The Hague are in a difficult position. Dubbed traitors by their former colleagues, and reviled by those they have persecuted, they are attacked from every side.

Mueller confirmed that Babic had often felt as if he was “running against a wall”.

“Neither the Serb side nor the Croatian side wanted to hear the truth,” he said.

“People in Croatia evidently think in a very antagonistic way. The situation was bitter for him, because he had Croatian relatives in his own family. His contact with family members from the former Yugoslavia was reduced to practically zero.”

The Serb media has been far from complimentary. One Belgrade-based daily newspaper ran an article addressed to the former leader. “God should make the earth throw you up” and “God may forgive you but Krajina Serbs will not”, the piece stated.

Mueller insists that the tribunal should ensure better protection for those who have pleaded guilty saying, “Security matters should get more attention than they have done in the past.”

This, Mueller claims, was the least the tribunal could have done for a key insider witness who was a “fountain of information” and had to be restrained from revealing ever more stories, “I always warned him, during tribunal proceedings against him, don’t make a big story of yourself, don’t mention information which is not of use in your own case.”

But, as Babic’s three-week testimony against Martic showed, this was a man driven to spill the details of what he had been involved in.

“He wanted to promote the truth…he wanted to contribute to reconciliation and peace in the Balkans,” said Mueller. “He did not want lies to be broadcast.”

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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