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Jail for Sarajevo Siege General

Bosnian Serb commander whose men shelled civilians handed 20-year sentence.
By Stacy Sullivan

In a watershed judgment that establishes terrorising a civilian population as a war crime, the Hague tribunal this week sentenced Bosnian Serb general Stanislav Galic to 20 years in prison for his part in laying siege to Sarajevo.

However, Bosnians who lived through the siege said they were dismayed that the general was given only 20 years.

General Galic, the first suspect to be tried in connection with crimes committed in Sarajevo, was the commander of the Bosnian army's Sarajevo Romanija Corps, SRK, from September 1992 until August 1994, a two-year period in which hundreds of Sarajevans were killed and thousands injured in shelling and sniper attacks on the city.

In a majority two-to-one decision issued on December 5, the trial judges found Galic guilty of all of the war crimes counts in the indictment, which alleged that he "ordered the campaign of attacks on civilians, or otherwise failed to prevent or punish crimes of his subordinates".

In its judgement, the trial chamber stated, "The evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that Sarajevo civilians were indeed made the object of deliberate attack by [SRK] forces."

The court also disregarded the defence's claim that civilian casualties were merely the collateral damage arising from a legitimate military campaign.

Noting that thousands of civilians were attacked while "attending funerals, while in ambulances, trams, and buses, and while cycling", and that the attacks were carried out in daylight, presiding judge Alphons Orie of the Netherlands stated in court, "A fraction of these - but no more than a fraction - may have been accidents."

Orie described the sniping and shelling directed at Sarajevo as "a widespread and systematic campaign" that was "primarily intended to terrorise the civilian population". He added that "it had no discernible significance in military terms".

The presiding judge brushed off long-standing allegations that the Bosnian government military fired upon its own population, knowing that Serb forces would be blamed, stating, "The Majority does not believe that this evidence amounts to much. In any case, even if such things happened occasionally, they do not alter the Majority's conclusions as to which party perpetrated the vast number of sniping and shelling attacks on civilians which were considered in the course of this trial."

In citing the crime of terrorising a civilian population, as spelled out in the indictment, Orie said that terror was "an attack on civilians, plus an additional mental element", and that there was therefore no question that the tribunal had jurisdiction over the crime.

Judge Rafael Nieto-Navia of Colombia was the dissenting voice among the three judges. He argued that the tribunal is only mandated to apply rules that are "beyond any doubt part of customary law", and that he was not aware of an established state practice criminalising such an offence. Therefore, he concluded, "The offence of inflicting terror on a civilian population does not fall within this trial chamber's jurisdiction."

Nieto-Navia said that given the competence of the Bosnian Serb army, he would have expected it to have inflicted a higher number of civilian casualties, relative to Sarajevo's population, if the campaign had been deliberate. Because the number was only in the thousands, and because monthly figures for civilian casualties dropped over the 23-month period that the general was in charge of the SRK, Nieto-Navia concluded that the forces under Galic's command "did not engage in a campaign of purposefully targeting civilians in Sarajevo throughout the indictment period".

He added that the Bosnian Serb leadership "relinquished voluntary control of the airport, authorised the establishment of 'blue routes' to allow for the distribution of humanitarian supplies and the safe passage of civilians out of the city, entered into anti-sniping agreements under the auspices of the United Nations and agreed to the establishment of the 'Total Exclusion Zone'".

Sarajevans expressed disbelief at Nieto-Navia's dissenting opinion, pointing out that Bosnian Serb forces routinely shelled civilians at the airport, blocked the blue routes and held up humanitarian aid convoys, violated the anti-sniping agreements and moved weapons into the exclusion zones.

Tribunal officials acknowledged that the sentence seemed light given the trial chamber's findings, but they pointed out that Galic was indicted not for the whole siege, but only for two years of it.

"This was the first trial for crimes in Sarajevo, and I think people were expecting a sentence that would reflect what the people of Sarajevo suffered," said a tribunal official. "There will be more suspects who will have to answer for the siege."

Stacy Sullivan is IWPR's Hague project manager.

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