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Glogova Trial Controversy

Hearings against top Bratunac politician fuel plea agreement debate.
By Ana Uzelac

The tribunal this week began the final phase of its proceedings against Miroslav Deronjic, the former top Bosnian Serb politician in the Bratunac area of eastern Bosnia, amid speculation that the prosecution was letting him off too easily.


Deronjic, 49, was indicted on July 3, 2002 on charges of persecuting Bosnian Muslims in the village of Glogova in May 1992. At the time, he was head of the Bosnian Serb local administration, the Bratunac crisis staff, and in that role is alleged to have ordered the attack on Glogova. Almost 2,000 of its inhabitants were expelled and 65 unarmed men were executed.


On January 28, Deronjic, with his voice steady and his gaze fixed on his written notes, expressed his remorse and asked forgiveness from the “people to whom he brought grief”.


He had originally pleaded not guilty, but in September 2003 he signed a plea agreement with the prosecutor’s office in which he admitted to persecution, a crime against humanity, and agreed to testify against several other political and military officials on trial at the tribunal. In exchange, the prosecution said it would recommend a reduced sentence of 10 years.


As part of his plea agreement, Deronjic provided an extensive, 70-page witness statement about events in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia from early 1991 through 1996.


This document appeared to link him with crimes well outside of the scope of the indictment against him, including the worst crime of the Bosnia war, the 1995 summary executions of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys around Srebrenica in 1995.


In a thinly veiled reference to Srebrenica, presiding judge Wolfgang Schomburg warned Deronjic during his sentencing hearing that that just because he had pleaded guilty to crimes at Glogova did not mean that he could not be put on trial for actions committed elsewhere.


In his statement, Deronjic gave an extensive description of the logistics that went into Serbia’s efforts to arm the Bosnian Serbs, as well as the planning and organisation of ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia. He also took the stand against former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to help prosecutors implicate him in the Bosnian war.


Last week, Deronjic appeared as a witness against two other Bosnian Serb officers on trial for the Srebrenica massacre, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic.


In the course of his testimony, it became apparent that Deronjic himself may have played a significant role in events in and around Srebrenica in July 1995.


According to his own statement, Deronjic actively participated in Bosnian Serb politics throughout the war, and climbed up in the political hierarchy to become a member of the main board of the Karadzic-run Serbian Democratic Party, SDS. At the time of Srebrenica massacre, he was head of the local SDS branch, and a frequent guest at Bosnian Serb headquarters at Pale.


Some 23 pages of his statement relate to events leading up to the capture of Srebrenica by Serb forces, and the subsequent period when most executions took place. According to the witness statement and the evidence in the case, Deronjic was named Civilian Commissioner of Srebrenica on the day of the takeover, and had de jure power over civilian authority.


Given the extent of his knowledge and his possible involvement, many at the tribunal began asking why no indictment was ever brought against Deronjic for Srebrenica, and even whether the prosecution might have given him assurances that he would not face charges for his role there in exchange for his cooperation.


Indeed, when Deronjic’s sentencing hearing commenced on January 27, Judge Schomburg asked the prosecution straight out whether a commitment not to indict Deronjic for Srebrenica formed part of the plea agreement.


Prosecutor Mark Harmon told the court that the agreement did not include any assurance that the accused would be exempt from prosecution over Srebrenica, but also made it clear that his office had no intention of pursuing such an indictment.


“An indictment against Deronjic for events in Srebrenica is not warranted,” Harmon said, adding that the prosecution had already issued indictments against the 13 suspects his office believed were responsible for the massacre.


However, Harmon acknowledged that in a document known as an “understanding of the parties”, the prosecution assured Deronjic that his testimony would not be used against him.


But while the prosecutor’s office has repeatedly stated that it does not have enough firm evidence to indict Deronjic for Srebrenica, Michael Karnavas, the defence counsel for Bosnian Serb officer Vidoje Blagojevic, thinks otherwise.


In an interview with IWPR, he described the prosecutor’s claim that they lack sufficient evidence as “absurd”.


“The position of the prosecutor defies logic,” Karnavas said. “Given Mr Deronjic’s political position at the time, I don’t see how the office of the prosecutor cannot but indict him.”


When questioned about Deronjic’s role in Srebrenica, however, the prosecutor’s office stood firm.


“We had no evidence supporting an indictment which would link Mr Deronjic or any other local civil authority to the mass killings in Srebrenica,” said tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartmann.


“Yes, he was there. He knew what happened. But then thousands of people knew what happened, and that does not make them criminally responsible. In order to prove their criminal responsibility, you also need firm linkage evidence.”


The prosecutor’s office has so far indicted almost exclusively the Bosnian Serb military over Srebrenica – the majority of the 13 indicted are army personnel. The only civilian person so far charged for these events is Radovan Karadzic, but as president of Republika Srpska, he was supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb army.


The witness statement given by Deronjic directly implicates Karadzic in the Srebrenica massacre. He said that a couple of days before the attack on the town, the president told him in a face-to-face conversation that all civilians there would have to be killed.


But in testimony that added to the controversy surrounding his trial, Deronjic’s reliability as a witness was shaken last week when he admitted to filling in holes in his testimony by taking information from other suspects in the Hague detention unit. (see TU 340, January 23, 2004).


In an appearance at the beginning of his sentencing hearing, he also admitted to having “given incorrect statements” in some of his earlier testimony, out of fear that it could have been used against him.


Deronjic’s unreliability was such that Judge Schomburg admonished him, warning him that perjury at the tribunal is punishable by seven years in prison.


Upon conclusion of the hearing, the prosecution adhered to the promise it made in the plea agreement and recommended a sentence of 10 years. The defence, however, requested a sentence of only six year.


Schomburg said his chamber would now deliberate, and would likely hand down sentence at the end of March.


Ana Uzelac is the IWPR tribunal project’s new reporter in The Hague. IWPR Reporter Karen Meirik and IWPR tribunal project manager Stacy Sullivan contributed to this article.