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

COURTSIDE: Izetbegovic Investigated

The Hague tribunal is considering whether to issue an indictment against the former Bosnian president.
By Mirko Klarin

Republika Srpska last week sought to show that it is willing to work with The Hague when its justice ministry filed charges against Alija Izetbegovic, the former president of the Bosnian Presidency and the leader of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, SDA.


The charges were delivered to Hague prosecutors who will now decide whether to issue an indictment against Izetbegovic.


Republika Srpska finally adopted a long-awaited law on cooperation with the tribunal three weeks ago, but it has yet to be implemented. Some 15 indicted war criminals are currently assumed to be hiding on the territory of the Serb entity in Bosnia.


The indictment announced in Banja Luka charges Izetbegovic with committing war crimes against the civilian population and prisoners-of-war, as well as with the destruction of cultural and historical monuments, from May 1, 1992, to December 14, 1995.


The Banja Luka charges were issued in accordance with the "Rules of the Road". This stipulates that the judiciaries of the Bosnian entities can initiate proceedings for war crimes only if The Hague prosecution gives them a green light - confirms that they have a "prima facie case", on the basis of accompanying material evidence.


However, it seems that once more Republika Srpska has not 'missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity'.


If the Hague prosecution is conducting an investigation against Izetbegovic and/or other persons in the SDA leadership, which cannot be excluded given the current prosecutor strategy, the Banja Luka charges will make Carla Del Ponte's task a great deal more difficult.


Even if her indictment against Izetbegovic is ready, Del Ponte will have to put it aside so that it will not appear that she has acted on the instructions and 'orders' of Banja Luka.


In the Milosevic case there was an attempt by the amici curiae to dispute the Kosovo indictment by citing the fact that the UN Security Council "urge(d)" the prosecutor to investigate Kosovo violence. In that case, the trial chamber concluded that the prosecutor's independence was not impugned by the Security Council request, since "there is no suggestion that the prosecutor acted upon the instructions of any government, any body, or any person in her decision to indict the accused".


At the same time as the former SDA president was put on Banja Luka arrest warrants, his successor Sulejman Tihic found himself interrogated by the defence counsels of four men accused of the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac.


In mid-September, Tihic testified about his suffering in the prisons in Bosanski Samac, Brcko, Bijeljina, Batajnica and Sremska Mitrovica. Following several days of cross-examination by the prosecution, Tihic returned to Sarajevo where he was elected the SDA's new president. Last week, he went back to the witness box, this time to be cross-examined by the defence.


Belgrade lawyer Igor Pantelic, the defence counsel of one of the co-accused Blagoje Simic, former president of the Crisis Staff of the self-proclaimed Serbian municipality of Samac, was most aggressive in his cross-examination of the new SDA president.


Pantelic claimed that before the outbreak of war, a coalition of the SDA and the Croat HDZ was in charge at local level in Bosanski Samac.


Further, Pantelic insisted that the municipality of Bosanski Samac was encircled by Muslim military and paramilitary forces, the local Croatian HVO and the Army of the Republic of Croatia. Tihic denied this and many more of the defence lawyer's accusations.


Presiding judge Florence Mumba, who had warned Pantelic to treat the witness with decency on several occasions, finally ordered the counsel to sit down and his co-counsel to rise. Addressing the co-counsel, she said that he would have to cross-examine the witness if Pantelic continues to ignore the judges' instructions. Immediately after that, Pantelic finished his cross-examination, kindly thanking the witness and the judges.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.