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Foca Rape Case: Defendant Speaks of Remorse

Zelenovic said he only thought “really hard” about his responsibility after his detention.
Foca rapes suspect Dragan Zelenovic told his Hague sentencing hearing this week that he began to feel remorse for his crimes only when he started to believe in God - the same year when the indictment against him was issued.

That was 1996, but he told the tribunal judges that regret alone wasn’t enough for him to surrender to the tribunal and admit his guilt.

Zelenovic said he started to think about his responsibility “really hard” only after he was arrested in Russia 18 months ago.

The former Bosnian Serb soldier and de facto military policeman in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca pleaded guilty last month to seven counts of torture and rape committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on Muslims in the east of the country.

In exchange for the plea, the tribunal prosecutors agreed to drop another seven charges against him. He also promised to testify at any proceedings before the Hague tribunal as requested by the Office of the Prosecutor.

Zelenovic, who had lived in Russia for four years under an assumed identity, was transferred to The Hague via Bosnia in June last year.

Following his guilty plea, his lawyers recommended a prison sentence of seven to ten years, while the prosecution proposed 10-15.

Zelenovic himself addressed the judges at this week’s hearing saying he feels “sorry for all victims and those who became victims because of my acts”. “I sincerely apologise to all of them,” he said.

“I will bravely accept and endure with dignity any sentence you render to me, and I hope your decision will be fair,” he said.

During the hearing, the prosecutor said that Zelenovic “personally participated” in the rapes of Muslim women and girls. He also took part in gang rapes of these women “with three or more Serb soldiers” who sexually abused these women “in all possible ways”. One of Zelenovic’s victims was 15-years-old.

The prosecutor noted that “all victims were civilians, unarmed and helpless women, kept in detention in inhumane conditions … stripped of all dignity and treated as sex objects” and that none will ever fully recover from the consequences of these acts.

Zelenovic’s lawyer Zoran Jovanovic didn’t deny the crimes his client admitted to are very grave.

However, he said that the fact Zelenovic “pleaded guilty and showed a genuine remorse” is an important mitigating circumstance.

“He admitted the crimes were committed and that he participated in them,” said Jovanovic. “And he faced his own responsibility for these crimes.”

He also pointed out that by pleading guilty before his trial even started, Zelenovic “saved the tribunal’s time and resources”.

He also said his client’s guilty plea could help the reconciliation process in Bosnia.

The judges also had questions for Zelenovic, including when he first started to feel remorse for what he did in Foca during the war.

“When I started to believe in God,” responded Zelenovic.

“And that was the same year an indictment against you was issued?” said Judge Bakone Justice Moloto.

“Yes,” replied Zelenovic, appearing slightly puzzled.

“And yet, you didn’t decide to surrender to the tribunal then and accept your responsibility, but fled first to Serbia and then to Russia?”

Zelenovic at this point seemed defensive, “I was only listening to others, and they told me to go to Russia, so I did.”

He said he received a passport with a Russian visa and a new name in Belgrade, so he left his wife and son in Foca and went to Siberia.

“I started thinking about crimes I committed only when the indictment against me was issued - before that, I never thought about what I did. But when I was arrested in Russia I began to feel true remorse,” he said.

“So, you pleaded guilty only when you realised there is no way out?” concluded the judge.

The sentence will be issued at a later date.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague programme manager.

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