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

The Death Of Indictee Dragan Gagovic

Tribunal Update 107: The Last Three Weeks in The Hague(20 December 1998 - 10 January 1999)
By IWPR

According to the official version given in NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's statement, "during the operation, Gagovic drove his car directly at SFOR soldiers, threatening their lives.

In self-defence, SFOR soldiers opened fire and shot Gagovic. Following the incident, Gagovic was taken to a medical facility and pronounced dead upon arrival. There were no other casualties. This action was taken within the SFOR mandate, and the response was appropriate under the applicable rules of engagement."

Consistent with its following 10 previous operations, NATO did not reveal the nationality of troops that took part, but the French Defence Ministry later confirmed the troops involved were theirs. The Paris version of events differs from that given by Brussels in just one detail: the French ministry said in a statement that a doctor was present at the time of the shooting and noted that Gagovic died instantly.

It appears that the "medical facility" referred to in Solana's statement was an ambulance with a medical team that actually took part in the operation. The ambulance appears to have been brought along in case events turned out to be worse than expected. They did, but not as bad as they could have been, since it has been reported that six children were travelling in the car with Gagovic.

It is worth noting that just six days prior to the Foca incident, the French Defence Minister, Alain Richard, resolutely defended French troops from accusations which alleged that war crimes suspects operate more or less freely and openly in the French-controlled part of Bosnia.

During a televised discussion featuring journalists as jurists, Minister Richard said: "Those people must be apprehended without any bloodletting. We are not staging a Rambo movie there. Real life is not a cartoon!"

In December 1997, Richard had accused the Tribunal of practising "la justice du spectacle," and vowed not to allow French officers and soldiers to participate in such a "circus" by appearing in the Hague as witnesses.

Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who had replied to that accusation with her own, claiming that the French sector had become an "absolutely safe" "safe haven" for war crimes indictees, expressed regret for the tragic outcome of the French action in Foca.

At the same time, she used the opportunity to call upon all persons publicly indicted by the Tribunal to "peacefully surrender... so that they do not expose to unnecessary risk neither themselves, nor the SFOR troops who are executing their orders."

Dragan Gagovic (39) was the first co-accused on the so-called "Foca indictment," published on 26 June 1996. This was the first indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal to treat sexual violence as a war crime.

The indictment dwells in detail on the case of the town of Foca, where, according to the indictment, between April 1992 and February 1993, Muslim women - including girls of only 12 - were subjected to a "brutal regime of gang rape, torture and enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers, policemen and members of paramilitary groups."

After Bosnian Serb forces took full control of the city in April 1992, where the majority of population at the time was Muslim (51.6 per cent Muslims and 45.3 per cent Serbs), Dragan Gagovic was appointed the Chief of Police in Foca by Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party.

In his role, according to the indictment, Gagovic was "responsible for the living conditions of the detainees in Partizan Sports Hall, a detention facility that held women, children and elderly men." The indictment continues, Gagovic "knew or had reason to know that the women who were detained... were frequently sexually assaulted", but that he failed to take action to prevent or punish the perpetrators of such crimes.

On the contrary, on at least one occasion, Gagovic allegedly raped one of the women (FWS - "Foca Witness"- 48) who, on the previous day, had complained about the incidences of sexual assaults. By failing to take the actions required of a person in superior authority, Gagovic (and other two co-accused in positions of superior authority) are - according to the indictment - "responsible for all the crimes set out in the respective [62] counts."

For persecution of Muslim women on political, racial and religious grounds, and torture and rape of FWS-48, Gagovic was accused of three counts of crimes against humanity, and of two counts of grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, as well as two of violations of the laws and customs of war.

Apart from Gagovic, the "Foca indictment" accuses another seven members of the police and paramilitary forces of the Bosnian Serbs for the same acts of sexual violence. According to a number of reports by international human rights organisations, most of them still live and work in Foca with impunity.

One of the seven men, Dragoljub Kunarac, who surrendered himself to SFOR in March last year, was allegedly at great pains to convince the disbelieving French that he really wanted to give himself in.

In his first appearance before the Tribunal, Kunarac pleaded guilty to rape, but not for the count that qualifies rape as torture. He was "only raping, not torturing!" The judges took such reasoning as ambiguous and concluded that defendant had pleaded "not guilty" to the latter count.

Kunarac is awaiting the beginning of his trial at the Detention Unit.