Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Hears of Criminals in Bosnian Serb Police

Witness says former Republika Srpska interior minister sought to rid the force of such officers.
By Velma Šarić

A prosecution witness in the Hague tribunal trial of two former Bosnian Serb police officials said last week that one of the accused, Mico Stanisic, did everything he could to investigate crimes and punish perpetrators from the police ranks.

Radomir Njegus, ex-Republika Srpska, RS, assistant interior minister for legal and personnel affairs, was giving evidence in the case against Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, who are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state.

They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH.

Zupljanin, who in 1994 became an adviser to the then Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western BiH between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb interior ministry, MUP, in April 1992.

Their alleged crimes include persecution, extermination, murder, torture, inhumane acts and deportation as crimes against humanity, in addition to murder, torture and cruel treatment as violations of the laws or customs of war.

Njegus testified this week about a meeting between the heads of the Security Service Centres, CSB, which was held on August 20, 1992 in Trebinje in southeastern Hercegovina.

According to the minutes of that meeting, signed by Stanisic and admitted into evidence this week, the topics discussed included arrests of Muslims, as well as criminal behaviour within the Bosnian Serb police.

Among other things, the prosecution has charged Stanisic with having known that his subordinates had committed crimes, but that he has failed to order investigations and punish the perpetrators.

Prosecutor Joanna Korner said that the meeting's participants were informed of the arrest of 140 Muslim men in the Bileca municipality.

"Mr Savic from CSB Trebinje said that 140 Muslims of military age were arrested in Bileca and that only a representative of the Red Cross was allowed to visit them. Do you understand the reasons why these Muslims were detained? Just because they were of military age?" she asked the witness.

"We didn't understand his words in a sense that they were only arrested for being Muslims or Bosniaks, but because they were men of military age and I guess that this was the context in which it was entered into the record," the witness answered.

He also added that "the officials at the meeting in Trebinje probably asked what was happening with the arrested people and I also suppose that after this meeting some specific conclusions were made to help us overcome this problem". Njegus said that the arrests were "probably seen as a potential problem".

Korner went on to say that, at the same meeting, Stanisic pointed out that the RS MUP had been infiltrated by individuals with a criminal record and that they were ruining the reputation of the police.

"Let's take a look at the summary of the input by the minister. He says that the police authorities have been infiltrated by people who - because of their criminal behaviour - are ruining the reputation [of the police] and we must free ourselves of them," Korner said, quoting the record. He then asked the witness whether he knew that "there were individuals with criminal…behavior in the MUP".

"At the beginning of the war, a small number of people joined the reserve troops of the police who shouldn't have been there," Njegos answered.

"Did you know this a long time before August 1992?" the prosecutor asked.

"Of course we did," the witness said, adding that Stanisic did "everything he could" to free the RS MUP of criminal elements which had joined it.

"Everything that could be done in such a time was done. As minister, he insisted on several things during each of these meetings, including the removal of people who had joined the police and had no place there," Njegus said.

He clarified that Stanisic "kept insisting at every meeting, but also outside of official meetings, to have his orders carried out".

"What else could a minister have done except to issue an order and expect his subordinates to carry it out," the witness added.

The prosecutor then asked Njegus to say which steps Stanisic had made to ensure that individuals with a criminal record were removed from MUP or prosecuted.

"You mean more than this? I don't know what else he could have done," Njegus answered.

"The meeting took place on August 20. Did you hear of the murders at Koricanske Stijene, which happened immediately after this meeting?" the prosecutor asked.

According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, on August 21, 1992, more than 200 Bosniaks were killed at Koricanske Stijene while being transferred from the Trnopolje camp.

The witness told the judges that he had found out about this “horrible event" only after the war.

"At that time I had no knowledge of it and I believe most of our [police] personnel had no knowledge of it either," Njegus said.

Stanisic surrendered in March 2005, while Zupljanin was arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 10, 2008, after 13 years as a fugitive.

Their indictments were joined together in September 2008 and both have pleaded not guilty to all counts and their trial began on September 2009.

The trial continues this week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.