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

Simatovic Prosecution Defends Charges

Accused had called for case against him to be dropped due to a lack of evidence.
By Velma Šarić

The prosecution in the Hague tribunal trial of Franko Simatovic this week responded to the defendant’s request that the charges against him be dismissed.

Last week, Simatovic - who is on trial alongside Jovica Stanisic - used his right in accordance with the 98 bis rule to ask for acquittal on the basis of insufficient evidence. The Stanisic defence team refrained from filing such a request.

Stanisic and Simatovic are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia, through the persecution, murder and deportation of Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.

According to the indictment, between April 1991 and December 1995, Stanisic and Simatovic helped to establish, supply with arms, and finance paramilitary groups which acted in close coordination with the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, and the Serb Territorial Defence, TO, attacking towns and villages across Croatia and Bosnia and committing murder, rape and torture.

Stanisic was appointed head of the State Security Service, DB, by the then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He was in direct control of all Serbian police activities from 1991 until 1998.

Simatovic founded and was the first commander of a special operations DB unit formally known as the Red Berets. Also called “Frenki’s men”, the group was allegedly responsible for ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Others mentioned in the indictment as members of the joint criminal enterprise include Milosevic, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, who are currently also facing trial at the Hague tribunal.

Both Stanisic and Simatovic deny all the charges against them.

Prosecutor Travis Farr this week said that he considered his team had provided sufficient evidence of Simatovic’s responsibility for the crimes of which he was accused.

Farr added that the evidence showed both Stanisic and Simatovic were “close and inseparable associates who participated in the same joint criminal enterprise”, whose goal was to forcibly remove non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia.

“The presented evidence speaks in support of every point of the indictment. Therefore, the chamber should decide that the motion for acquittal is to be dismissed,” Farr added.

The prosecution has argued that the existence of such a joint criminal enterprise was attested to by a number of witness statements and intercepted conversations, as well as from entries in the notebooks of former Bosnian Serb army, VRS, commander and Hague fugitive Ratko Mladic.

The prosecutor said that in an intercepted conversation with Karadzic, Simatovic told him, “Doctor, I’m with you, you’re the boss and this is how it stays”, before going on to arrange to meet him in the coming days.

In another intercepted conversation, Stanisic told Karadzic he would “aid him to completely exterminate the non-Serbs, if he needs the aid”.

“The fact that Stanisic mentions ‘complete extermination’”, the prosecutor argued, “means that they didn’t intend to be stopped in any way.”

In notebooks kept by Mladic, the prosecution pointed out to an entry from December 1993 attesting to a meeting Stanisic attended with Karadzic, Milosevic and others, in which he promised Karadzic that he would help him establish Serb control and remove non-Serbs from “parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina”.

“This is almost a textbook example of what a joint criminal enterprise looks like,” the prosecutor added.

The notebooks belong to material seized by Serbian authorities last February from family members of Mladic, the commander of the main staff of the VRS from 1992 to 1996, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Farr also pointed to other evidence which he said proved the accused’s involvement with the joint criminal enterprise in Croatia.

The prosecutor stated that there was evidence showing that units such as the Red Berets and Arkanovci were controlled by the DB, which “provided these units with training, supplies and directed them to the frontline”.

Last week, Simatovic’s defence tried to show that these units were subordinate to the command of the JNA or the VRS. However, Farr stated this week that this did not “in any way diminish the responsibility of the accused for crimes committed by these units.

“The joint criminal enterprise which involves three different regions (Croatia and northern and eastern Bosnia) took several years to complete and the prosecution argues that the accused, alongside others who participated in the enterprise, always saw it as a single project,” he said. “Therefore, we are asking the trial chamber to also look it at in this way.”

Stanisic and Simatovic were arrested by Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003

The trial continues next week.

Velna Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

More IWPR's Global Voices