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Ganic Extradition Request Refused

British court says Serbian demand to try the former Bosnian president driven by political motives.
By Rory Gallivan

Ejup Ganic, the former member of Bosnia’s presidency accused of war crimes by Serbia, returned to a jubilant welcome in Sarajevo this week after a British court ruled that Serbia’s extradition request had been politically motivated.

Ganic was greeted at Sarajevo airport by a triumphant crowd, some waving Bosnian flags, the day after Judge Timothy Workman said that he considered that the Serbian prosecutors’ motive for prosecuting Ganic was “based upon politics, race or religion” and that this was a sufficient bar to his extradition.

Serbia sought the extradition of Ganic, who was arrested in London on March 1, to face trial for alleged involvement in an attack on Yugoslav soldiers who were being escorted from barracks in the besieged Bosnian capital Sarajevo during the war.

The charges against Ganic relate to events leading up to and during the so-called Dobrovoljacka (Volunteer’s Street) incident of May 3, 1992, in which a convoy of Yugoslav army, JNA, trucks was attacked by Bosnian soldiers the day after Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic was taken captive by the JNA.

Judge Workman’s judgement drew heavily on various witnesses’ assertions that Serbia’s extradition request appeared to be politically motivated, meaning that Ganic would be unlikely to receive a fair trial.

He quoted the first witness to appear in person, Philip Alcock, who headed an international team to investigate war crimes in Bosnia.

“I believe it is in the interest of justice that war crimes that took place in Dobrovoljacka Street are brought to trial but it is very much in the interest of justice to make sure one brings the right people to trial,” Alcock said.

“As far as Dr Ganic is concerned I can see nothing, except a politically motivated trial against him to justify an indictment.”

The assertion that the extradition request was politically motivated was backed up by testimony from Dr Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who served as High Representative of the International Community to Bosnia from 2005 to 2007, and the Bosnia experts Noel Malcolm, Marko Hoare and Carole Hodge, Judge Workman said.

The judge said that he also accepted the observation of another former High Representative to Bosnia, British politician Paddy Ashdown, that the request “was about politics rather than justice”.

However, he said that he did not accept Ashdown’s view that the timing of Ganic’s arrest, just before the beginning of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s trial for war crimes at the Hague tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, was “no coincidence”.

Judge Workman said that the arrest was dictated largely by the fact that Ganic had arrived in Britain two days previously.

The judge described as “unreliable” the evidence of Milan Petrovic, the deputy prosecutor of the war crimes prosecution office in Belgrade and the only witness called by the Serbian government to appear at the hearings.

“In the course of his evidence he asserted that the War Crimes Office had not received any criticism or complaint that the ICTY had been willing to transfer cases to them,” Judge Workman said.

“I am satisfied that there has been criticism expressed and that applications to transfer cases to Serbia from the ICTY have been withdrawn because of concerns.”

Serbia is considering whether to appeal.

Speaking outside the court after Judge Workman barred his extradition, Ganic said that Serbia had been guilty of “abusing the system”, pointing out that the ICTY and the war crimes court in Bosnia had found that there was no case to answer.

“They are messing around in the international scene to cover up the war crimes they are responsible for,” he said.

His daughter Emina criticised the judicial process in Britain. “I am not happy; it took five months to reach this verdict,” she said.

The decision not to extradite Ganic to Serbia was praised by Haris Silajdziic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s presidency and the Croat member Zeljko Komsic. But Mladen Ivanic, leader of the Bosnian Serb opposition Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, and a former prime minister of the Republika Srpska, said the decision was the result of pressure from British politicians.

Serbia’s chief prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said he was “unhappy with the decision”.

Speaking through an interpreter outside the court, he said that Judge Workman’s assertion that Ganic would not receive a fair trial in Serbia “does not stand”.

He pointed out that the majority of people who have been indicted for war crimes in Serbia have been Serbs and told IWPR that his office would continue pursuing the 18 people, including Ganic, who are accused of involvement in the Dobrovoljacka attack. “The process is ongoing,” he said.

Vukcevic’s comments about the lack of ethnic bias in prosecuting war crimes in Serbia were echoed by Ana Petrovic, a war crimes trials analyst at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, OSCE, mission to Serbia.

While declining to comment on the Ganic case specifically, she said that “we have not identified any ethnic bias by the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, which is usually a most common concern when considering national prosecution for mostly ethnicity-based crimes.

“According to our estimates, out of 99 persons indicted so far by the WCPO, 77 are ethnic Serbs.”

Marko Gasic of the British-Serbian Alliance for Peace, whose members stood outside the court building during the hearings carrying anti-Ganic placards, criticised the judgement and the hearings.

“The court heard testimony from.. individuals who had actively participated in legitimising Yugoslavia's dismemberment - politically-correct UK ‘experts’ brought in by the defence to re-iterate the anti-Yugoslavia views they had spread in the first place,” he told IWPR.

A former British ambassador to both Bosnia and Serbia, Charles Crawford, told IWPR that while the Ganic case had damaged relations between the two countries, “the underlying trend is for relations to improve”.

But he added that Belgrade’s failure to have Ganic extradited meant it “will be reluctant to try anything like this again”.

Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor.

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