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

Nikolic Case Breakthrough

Bosnian Serb camp commander changes plea to guilty.
By Emir Suljagic

A leading war crimes suspect last week sensationally admitted crimes of murder, rape and torture after years of denial.


Dragan Nikolic had denied four charges that he had inflicted a catalogue of horrors while commander of the Susica camp, eastern Bosnia, in 1992.


But on September 4, he changed his mind and admitted he was guilty.


This is only the latest twist in the Hague's longest-running case: Nikolic was the first person ever indicted by The Hague, who charged him with crimes against humanity in November 4, 1994.


Three years ago, he was handed to the tribunal by SFOR, apparently after a NATO commando raid snatched him in Bosnia.


But it later emerged Nikolic was kidnapped in Belgrade by a group of masked men, who then whisked him over the border, handing him to NATO troops.


This plunged the court into a complex battle over the legality of his arrest, causing further delays to his trial.


His charge sheet was also dramatically changed: originally he was charged with 70 separate counts. Now that is down to just four.


The indictment portrays Nikolic as a ruthless man who took part, and pleasure, in killings, beatings and rapes in his camp.


Between May and October 1992, when the camp was closed, 8,000 men were detained in Susica, making it probably the biggest of the Bosnian Serb archipelago of camps.


In return for his guilty plea to persecutions, murder, rape and torture, the prosecution has agreed to seek no more than 15 years for Nikolic.


His defence counsel Howard Morrison said that Nikolic had made an informed decision and was fully aware that the judges were not bound by the agreement between defence and prosecution.


But this case provided a further twist, when Judge Wolfgang Schomburg insisted on reading the entire indictment, detailing the horrors Nikolic is accused.


The judge asked him to confirm or deny every single paragraph. This took more than an hour, with Nikolic visibly sweating and nervous as he stood in the dock.


Schomburg slowly read details of rapes, beatings and murder. After each, he would ask the same question, "Is this correct?"


Nikolic confirmed it all.


The case continues with sentencing hearing scheduled for November 3, 2003.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.