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

Foca Rape Suspect Pleads Guilty

Bosnian Serb soldier admits to raping and torturing Muslim women and girls during the 1992-95 war.
Dragan Zelenović, a former Bosnian Serb soldier and de facto military policeman in the eastern Bosnian town of Foča, pleaded guilty this week 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.

As part of the plea agreement, Zelenović agreed to provide truthful and complete information and to testify at any proceedings before the Hague tribunal as requested by the Office of the Prosecutor.

The accused was arrested in Russia in 2005, where he lived under an assumed identity. He was transferred to the Hague via Bosnia in June last year.

According to the indictment, Zelenović was involved in the attack on Foča and its surrounding villages and in the arrest of Muslim civilians in July 1992. This week, he admitted to raping and torturing one of the civilians captured after the attack, who was a 15-year-old girl at the time. He also said he aided and abetted in the rape and torture of another victim.

Between July 3 and 13, 1992, at least 72 Muslims from the municipality of Foča were detained in two classrooms in the Foča High School. Zelenović admitted to being among the group of soldiers who raped and tortured a number of Muslim women and girls held there. Women who resisted sexual assaults were threatened with death or were beaten.

The indictment further alleges that from July 13 until August 13, 1992, at least 72 detainees were held at the Partizan Sports Hall in Foča. In this facility, detainees were subjected to inhumane treatment, unhygienic facilities, starvation, and physical and psychological torture, including sexual assaults. Some of them were frequently taken out and raped, including the 15-year-old girl mentioned in the Zelenovic guilty plea.

On or about October 30, 1992, Zelenović and two others raped four female detainees from the premises known as Karaman's house, located just outside Foča where detainees were held, in constant fear for their lives.

At the hearing this week, the trial chamber found the accused guilty on the seven counts of crimes against humanity contained in the plea agreement and granted the prosecution's motion to withdraw the remaining seven counts of torture and rape, charged as violations of laws and customs of war.

Zelenović's defence recommended a prison sentence in the range of seven to ten years and the prosecution proposed on of between 10 to 15 years.

The trial chamber asked both parties to submit their written sentencing briefs by February14, 2007.

The Office of the Prosecutor had earlier submitted a request to refer the Zelenović case to Bosnia for trial. Since the accused pleaded guilty while that request was pending before the Referral Bench, his sentencing will now take place before the ICTY.

At this week’s press conference held in The Hague, the tribunal’s spokesman Refik Hodzic said, “When Zelenović receives his sentence, the so called ‘Foča rape case’ will be concluded before the tribunal.”

He added that the initial indictment charged eight persons with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of Geneva conventions and violations of laws and customs of war in relation to a campaign of systematic rape of Muslim women in Foča.

In February 2001, Dragoljub Kunarac, Zoran Vuković and Radomir Kovač were convicted in a landmark judgment for rape as crime against humanity. In September and December 2005, two other indictees, Radovan Stanković and Gojko Janković, were transferred to Bosnia.

Stanković was recently sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment by Bosnia’s War Crimes Chamber, while Janković is currently on trial. Two remaining suspects from the same indictment, Dragan Gagović and Janko Janjić, died during NATO troops’ attempts to arrest them in Bosnia.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague programme manager.

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