Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Zdravko Tolimir, a former Bosnian Serb general in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
In their closing arguments this week, prosecutors at The Hague demanded life imprisonment for Zdravko Tolimir, a former Bosnian Serb general charged with crimes including the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica 1995.
Tolimir, former deputy commander for military intelligence and security in the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, is charged with eight counts of genocide, extermination, murder, and the forced transfer and deportation of Bosniaks from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves in July 1995.
Prosecutor Peter McCloskey told the court that Tolimir “embodies the genocide committed in Srebrenica”, where more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed after the enclave fell to Serb forces.
“Only one punishment is possible for this crime. and that punishment is life imprisonment,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey claimed that Tolimir must bear his share of responsibility “for leading the murderous group that had, between July 13 and July 16, carried out the orders of [Bosnian Serb president Radovan] Karadzic and [VRS commander Ratko] Mladic, to have all men of military age from Srebrenica killed”.
Tolimir was a direct subordinate of General Mladic, who is on trial in The Hague on charges including genocide at Srebrenica.
McCloskey accused Tolimir of making a significant contribution to the genocides, because the directorate security and intelligence directorate which he headed both planned and carried out killings.
“With astonishing efficiency and cruelty, the directorate had managed to kill a large number of Muslim males within only four days,” McCloskey said.
He said Tolimir willingly chose to commit the crimes.
“He deliberately chose loyalty to Mladic, loyalty to the cause, and he did this in spite of his duty to God to say no, and his duty to [the] law to stop,” McCloskey said.
Tolimir, who is representing himself, asked for a complete acquittal during his closing arguments, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove his responsibility.
Referring to himself in the third person, the defendant told the court that prosecutors had based their case on unproven speculation.
“Because Tolimir was not in Srebrenica on July 12 and 13, 1995, and because he had not taken part in the evacuation of the population from the Srebrenica enclave, Tolimir cannot in any way be considered responsible for the alleged forced transfer of the population or for the murders,” he told the court.
During the trial, the prosecution called 126 witnesses, while Tolimir called only four.
In their final arguments, prosecutors referred to an intercepted phone conversation dating from July 1995 between Tolimir and Vujadin Popovic, chief of security for the VRS Drina corps. Popovic was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2010 after being convicted of genocide at Srebrenica.
According to the prosecution, Popovic told Tolimir in the intercept that “everything is under control” and that he was “carrying out the job”.
There was no further clarification as to the “job” Popovic referred to. Prosecutors claimed that the conversation proved Tolimir was informed of events at Srebrenica.
Tolimir countered that the conversation was taken out of context, saying it was “not about prisoners of war but about something else, and therefore had no relevance”.
He also questioned the veracity of prosecution witnesses including former members of UNPROFOR, the United Nations protection force deployed in Bosnia.
“They were supposed to keep the peace in the former Yugoslavia, but all they did was to contribute to extending the warfare and establishing an advantage for the Bosniak army, and thus help in achieving NATO’s goals,” Tolimir told the court.
“The decision to evacuate people from Srebrenica was taken at the UN level and with consent from Sarajevo, but this decision was kept secret in order to keep the people at bay and blame the Bosnian Serbs,” Tolimir said.
He rejected the prosecution’s claims that he had planned the VRS’s entry into Srebrenica.
“My role was only to collect information about the enemy, without taking part in any JCE [joint criminal enterprise] or however you wish to call it,” he said.
“I didn't command anyone out there; I had no right to do so,” Tolimir added.
The first indictment against Tolimir was issued in February 2005, and he was arrested in May 2007. In December 2009, he pleaded not guilty to all counts and his trial commenced in February 2010.
The court is expected to issue its judgement by the end of this year.
Velma Šarić is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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