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Prosecutors Demand Convictions in Srebrenica Case

They call on judges to find seven accused guilty on all counts.
By Simon Jennings
The three-year trial of seven senior Bosnian Serb military and police officials for the events surrounding the 1995 Srebrenica genocide neared its climax this week as the prosecution asked judges to convict the men on all charges.

Summing up its case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, the prosecution asserted the guilt of all seven defendants charged in relation to the massacre of about 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) after the so-called UN “safe area” of Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, in the largest act of mass murder in Europe since World War Two.

“The officers in this case ... consciously made the decision to disregard their duty, to disregard the law,” prosecutor Peter McCloskey told judges this week, referring to what he said was their decision to take part in, rather than put a stop to, the atrocities that unfolded in July 1995.

Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Ljubisa Beara, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic face charges of genocide and war crimes while Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly blocking aid and supplies to Srebrenica.

According to the indictment, the men all face charges for conducting two separate but linked joint criminal plans, along with Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic, to force the Muslim population from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves and “to murder all the able-bodied men captured from the Srebrenica enclave”.

On July 11, 1995, about 25,000 Bosnian refugees took refuge in the UN-base in the village of Potocari, near Srebrenica, before Bosnian Serb forces undertook the forcible transfer of the Muslim refugees from the enclave the following day.

The former officials, known as the “Srebrenica Seven”, have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

The prosecution used its time in front of the judges this week to address what it saw as specific shortfalls in the arguments submitted by the defence. Written arguments from all parties were handed to the judges confidentially on July 30 this year.

Asserting the guilt of Popovic, who during the summer of 1995 was chief of security in the Bosnian Serb army’s Drina Corps, prosecutor Kweku Vanderpuye focused on the defendant’s alleged role in the killing of Bosniak prisoners.

“There was only one reason that explains Mr Popovic’s presence at any one of the execution sites in this case,” he told judges.

“He was there to see that the murder of the Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica was carried out efficiently and he was there to see that it was carried out quietly. He was there to see to its completion and to see to its concealment.”

“Based on the record of these proceedings, your honours, Mr Popovic should be found guilty of each count under the indictment,” Vanderpuye added.

On Popovic’s alleged role in executions which took place at the Kula school near Pilica and the Rocevic school near Zvornik between July 14 and 16, the prosecutor opposed the defence’s position that Popovic was not at the school on July 16 and pointed to the presence of three of the defendants at the execution site.

“[Popovic] was an integral part of this murder operation together with Mr Nikolic and Mr Beara. That’s exactly what he was doing [there], he was implementing the murder operation,” Vanderpuye said.

According to the prosecutor, the defence had conceded in its written submissions that while somebody matching the description of Popovic was in Pilica during the days in question in July 1995, the same description could have been applied to several men on the ground there at that time.

But the prosecutor asserted this week that the man in question was in fact Popovic, citing evidence from intercepted communication in eastern Bosnia that, he said, showed Popovic had been in the Zvornik area and that a man matching his description there had also gone by the nickname of “Pop”.

The prosecution also sought to emphasise what it said was Popovic’s “hands-on style” in his involvement in the transfer of thousands of separated Bosniak men who were taken to Zvornik to be executed.

Following a meeting with Nikolic and Beara on July 14 – which the prosecution submits shows that the men had organised the detention and transfer of the prisoners – Popovic led thousands of prisoners from Bratunac to Zvornik where they were detained in different schools before being executed, Vanderpuye said.

The prosecution also said that judges should not treat Popovic lightly when delivering their judgement.

“There is no persuasive evidence in the record of any remorse of Mr Popovic, nor of any legitimate mitigation for his conduct,” Vanderpuye said. The prosecutor asked this to be taken into consideration in the judges’ assessment of the case.

The prosecution also addressed the arguments of the defence team of Colonel Beara, who was chief of security of the main staff in the VRS at the time of the Srebrenica massacre.

It countered the defence’s alibi that Beara was in Belgrade from July 13 to 16, 1995, and that he was not aware of the crimes that were being committed around the enclave.

The prosecution cited what it contended were suspicious levels of detail as well as flaws in the alibi evidence presented which, it said, showed that it had been fabricated.

Witnesses had testified that Beara was present in the Srebrenica area, including at the Kula school, between July 13 and 16, the prosecution said.

“What we have here is a complete failure of the alibi and identification defences as advanced by the Beara team,” Vanderpuye told judges.

The prosecution also pointed to intercepted communication between Bosnian Serb officials presented as evidence which it said showed Beara’s direct involvement in the transfer of prisoners and their subsequent slaughter.

According to the indictment, Beara along with the other four defendants charged with genocide were responsible for “the forcible transfer of Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica and Zepa by means of … the forced bussing of the men, separated at Potocari or captured or having surrendered from the column up to the Zvornik area”.

The prosecutor cited evidence from a media interview given by Beara in October 1992 when he was asked whether he participated in the operation of the Serbian forces in Srebrenica. On that occasion, he said, Beara admitted that he had seen a large number of buses on the road leading from Bratunac to Zepa and Srebrenica and that the vehicles were sent from all over Bosnia to transfer the Muslims.

“To suggest that Beara does not have information ... with respect to the civilian population and their forced removal is, as I say, untenable,” Vanderpuye argued.

Summing up its case at the end of the trial, which began on August 21, 2006, the prosecution presented arguments in relation to all seven defendants and asked judges to convict them all for their role in the horrors at Srebrenica. The massacre has been legally classified as genocide by both the Hague tribunal and a 2007 ruling at the International Court of Justice, ICJ.

In his closing remarks this week, McCloskey stressed the importance of the imminent judgement for the victims of the massacre.

“This trial chamber is in the best position to give the men, the women, Srebrenica some rest, some peace, some measure of justice,” he concluded.

The defence teams are scheduled to respond with their final arguments in the case over the next two weeks.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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