Delic Could Face Halilovic Charges

Indictment against Delic may be expanded to include those previously levelled against Halilovic.

Delic Could Face Halilovic Charges

Indictment against Delic may be expanded to include those previously levelled against Halilovic.

Prosecutors in The Hague have proposed a new indictment against former Bosnian army chief Rasim Delic, in which he is charged with crimes for which his subordinate and rival, Sefer Halilovic, has just been cleared.

Delic’s original indictment, which was unsealed in March this year, charged him with responsibility for crimes allegedly committed by foreign “mujahedin” fighters during the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia.

But the latest indictment, issued one week ago, which has still to be confirmed by judges, expands the range of incidents for which Delic is being held responsible, and makes it clear that as head of the armed forces he should have taken steps to follow-up investigations into various massacres committed by Bosnian Muslim forces, and punish those involved.

The new indictment also details Delic’s relationship to various units within the Bosnian army, defining each one as “a subordinate formation under the command and control of the accused”.

Observers at The Hague see a direct connection between the not guilty verdict against Halilovic and the new indictment against Delic, not least because both cases centre on the issue of command responsibility.

The judges in the Halilovic case this week confirmed that Bosnian Muslim soldiers were responsible for massacres of Croat civilians in two villages in Central Bosnia, but said that Halilovic did not have effective control of the troops and that it was “a principle of international law that a commander cannot be held responsible for the crimes of persons who were not under his command as the time the crimes were committed”.

As Commander of the Main Staff in Sarajevo, Delic is seen by the prosecution as “the most senior member of the ARBiH [Bosnian army], subordinate only to the Presidency/President of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

He is specifically charged with knowing or having reasons to know about the crimes that were committed by the Bosnian army and failing to investigate and punish those involved.

The new indictment details the events that occurred in the two Bosnian villages Grabovica and Uzdol, both situated in the Neretva valley. Delic is alleged to have “officially approv[ed] the [Neretva 93] operation as Commander of the Main Staff” –which aimed to lift the siege of Mostar by advancing through the valley.

In Grabovica, at least twenty seven Croat civilians were killed during September 1993 – the bodies were seen “alongside of and floating in the Neretva river”. In Uzdol, 29 civilians are alleged to have been killed, including old people and children.

In both cases Delic is accused of having ordered investigations into the massacres, but having failed to follow them up and punish the perpetrators.

The two villages – Grabovica and Uzdol – featured in the indictment against Sefer Halilovic. He was effective head of the Bosnian armed forces until June 1993, when Delic was appointed his superior.

The trial chamber in the Halilovic case found this week that he was not commander of the Neretva operation, but rather that Delic had given him responsibility for coordinating and monitoring functions as the head of an inspection team.

Whether the prosecution can now prove beyond reasonable doubt that Delic did have command responsibility and effective control of the troops concerned will be a key issue.

Delic’s new indictment also presents him as responsible for the notorious events in Bugojno, Central Bosnia, where around 100 HVO – Bosnian Croat army – soldiers were detained, along with 100 civilians.

Twenty-one of the HVO prisoners were removed from the detention facilities by Bosnian Muslim military policemen, and never seen again.

Rasim Delic is accused of failing to take the necessary steps to punish those involved.

Events in Bugojno also figured in the indictment against two other senior Bosnian officers at The Hague – Enver Hadzihasanovic, former commander of the Third Corps and Amir Kubura, leader of the Seventh Muslim Brigade.

At the end of their trial in July this year prosecutors called for a total of 30 years’ imprisonment for them for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by their subordinates in central Bosnia in 1993 and 1994.

Another addition to Delic’s indictment concerns the murder of at least six Croat civilians at the village of Doljani near Jablanica, as it was taken by Muslim forces in July 1993. Groups of Bosnian Croats tried to flee the village and were caught in an ambush.

He is accused of being informed about the murders and assaults, but failing to follow up an investigation into the incident or to have punished those responsible.

Some observers have criticised the indictments against Bosnian Muslim senior officers, saying they are politically based, resulting from the tribunal’s desire to be even-handed and prosecute high-ranking Muslims, as well as Serbs and Croats.

When Delic’s original indictment was announced in February this year, some senior Bosnian Muslim politicians expressed outrage, accusing the court of trying to equalise “responsibility between those who committed atrocities and ruined [Bosnia] and those who defended it”.

But those who monitor all the proceedings at The Hague suggest that prosecutors at the tribunal do not make hasty decisions.

“The prosecution pursues its cases based on evidence available – I doubt that those whom the prosecutors had little evidence on would be selected for prosecution based on political motives,” said Edgar Chen from the Coalition for International Justice.

However, the fact that the amended indictment against Delic came out only a few days before Halilovic’s sentencing judgement was announced has provided the grist to the mill of the conspiracy theorists.

According Emir Suljagic, an investigative reporter with the Sarajevo-based magazine Dani, the timing of the new indictment “was a clear signal that Halilovic would be let off the hook, and that Delic would have to pay the price”.

Janet Anderson is IWPR project manager in The Hague.

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