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Convictions for Bosnian Serb Police Officials

Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin presided over a police force that committed atrocities and assisted ethnic cleansing project.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin. (Photo: ICTY)
    Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin. (Photo: ICTY)

Two senior wartime Bosnian Serb police officials, Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, were convicted this week of crimes against civilians and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

During the war, Stanisic was interior minister of Bosnia’s self-declared Serb entity, Republika Srpska, and hence responsible for all police there. Zupljanin was chief of the regional security services centre in the city of Banja Luka.

The two men were found guilty on counts of persecution, murder and torture. The persecution count included unlawful detention, the creation of inhumane living conditions, forcible transfer and deportation, plunder of property, wanton destruction of towns and villages, and the imposition and maintenance of restrictive, discriminatory measures in relation to non-Serb civilians.

Zupljanin was convicted of extermination, while Stanisic was acquitted of that count.

Judges found that Stanisic and Zupljanin “both intended and significantly contributed to the plan to remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from the territory of the planned Serbian state” in Bosnia.

Reading out a summary of the 1,466 page judgement in open court on March 27, presiding Judge Burton Hall said that Stanisic was the “highest authority in Republika Srpska on matters of interior affairs” and that he had a “legal duty to protect the entire civilian population – regardless of religion, ethnicity, race or political beliefs.”

Stanisic was a “key member of the decision-making authorities” and “shared a close relationship” with Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who is currently standing trial at the tribunal.

Judge Hall said that Stanisic bolstered his police force with unqualified reserve officers and coordinated with the Bosnian Serb army in order to “effect ethnic division on the ground.”

“Despite being aware of the commission of crimes by these joint forces, Stanisic consistently approved the deployment of his police forces in this manner,” Judge Hall said.

When Stanisic did issue orders for protection of the civilian population, particularly in July and August 1992, he “failed to use the powers available to him under the law to ensure [their] implementation, despite being aware of the limited action taken” after the orders were issued.

This was particular true regarding the treatment of detainees in camps such as Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje in the Prijedor municipality, the judge said.

In line with previous findings at the tribunal, The bench concluded that the conditions in these camps were “deplorably inhumane” and that detainees who included women, children and elderly people “were beaten, sexually assaulted and deprived of basic civic amenities, such as appropriate food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical help”.

“At Omarska camp, where the red and white houses came to acquire particular infamy among the approximately 3,000 inmates, mass executions were conducted from late July [1992] onwards. At Trnopolje, the detainees were primarily women and children, and the women were routinely subjected to rape,” Judge Hall said.

Orders relating to conditions in the camps “were prompted by the scrutiny of the international community and were mostly concerned with the image of Republika Srpska in the eyes of the world”, the judge said.

Furthermore, by “failing to remove errant personnel from the police forces, Stanisic violated his professional obligation to protect and safeguard the civilian population in the territories under their control.”

Stanisic could have done more, Judge Hall said. This was illustrated by the fact that when vehicles were stolen from the interior ministry, or when local Serb leaders were being harassed by paramilitaries, Stanisic dealt with the problems in a “decisive manner”.

As for Zupljanin, judges found that he was one of the “key actors” behind the blockade of Banja Luka on April 3, 1992. When the non-Serb community in that city demanded police protection, “Zupljanin either provided false assurances or openly refused it”.

He also “created and staffed” a special police detachment made up of Serb nationalists, some with previous criminal records, who “committed heinous crimes against Muslims and Croats, including rape, torture and murder” during the takeover of municipalities.

“Zupljanin, despite being repeatedly informed of the crimes in this special unit, continued engaging it in operations in close contact with Muslim and Croat civilians, whom the detachment continued to abuse,” Judge Hall said.

The defendant was also “aware of the unlawful arrest and detention of thousands of Muslims and Croats, of the harsh conditions in which they were interned, and of the abuses and other crimes that were cruelly inflicted upon them”, the judge continued.

Despite this knowledge, Zupljanin continued to have his policemen guard the prisoners, and ordered detainees from police-controlled facilities to the Manjaca camp, where they were held in “unsanitary conditions, were not provided with sufficient food or medical care and were beaten on a regular basis”.

Furthermore, the orders that Zupljanin did issue urging his police to respect the law were “ineffective” and “not genuinely meant to be effectuated.” Despite being well aware of crimes committed against non-Serbs, including ones carried out by his own subordinates, Zupljanin “failed to investigate these crimes or to discipline the perpetrators”.

“In relation to at least two incidents where large numbers of Muslims were killed by members of the police, Zupljanin misled the judicial authorities in an effort to shield the perpetrators from criminal prosecution,” Judge Hall said.

The judge also spent a considerable amount of time reading out an exhaustive chronicle of crimes committed in 19 municipalities as they were taken over by Serb army, police, and paramilitary units.

In Zvornik, these forces “expelled the Muslim population, destroyed their houses and mosques, and stole their property”. Hundreds of Muslims were detained in different facilities around the town, including at a cultural centre in Celopek.

With the knowledge of the police, paramilitary units “humiliated, sexually abused and mutilated” the prisoners, Judge Hall said.

One leader of the Yellow Wasps paramilitary group “forced two pairs of fathers and sons to perform sexual acts on each other, including intercourse and penetration with a broom handle”, the judge continued. “Other members of the Wasps cut off detainees’ penises and ears and forced other prisoners to ingest them. If a prisoner did not do so, he was killed.”

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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