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

Storm Over Publication of Srebrenica Suspects

Sarajevo paper continues to publish names of Srebrenica massacre suspects, despite opposition from local authorities.
By Merdijana Sadović
When two years ago the Bosnian Serb Commission for Srebrenica completed its long-awaited report on the events that took place in this enclave in July 1995, it immediately grabbed the public’s attention.

Not only did the Republika Srpska, RS, authorities in this report finally admit that Serb forces were responsible for the mass execution of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, they also compiled a list of some 28,000 people who they claim were directly or indirectly involved in this crime.

Some of the people from the list are reported to have been members of units who took part in the slaughter; some were issuing orders; some were overseeing their execution; and some were possibly just bystanders, who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So the question soon arose as to whether this list should ever be made public, considering the sensitivity of this issue. Some observers say this is an official document and its content should be revealed. They also point out that by keeping it secret, those named can go on with their lives as if nothing ever happened.

But some analysts warn that wrongly accusing someone could have far reaching consequences for that person’s future. Therefore, they say, this matter should be approached with utmost caution.

Soon after the report was released in October 2004, the Srebrenica commission’s chairman Jovan Spaic told the local media that there was no intention to make the names of potential suspects listed public. He added that he and other members of the commission were obliged to protect the identity of those named and that the report had been submitted to the Bosnian prosecutor’s office, the Office of the High Representative, OHR, and the RS government.

“With this we completed our task,” Spaic was reported as saying in an interview with Sarajevo-based Oslobodjenje daily after the report was completed.

He also confirmed that the commission singled out “892 people who are still employed with state institutions from the list of 28,000 participants in the Srebrenica events” and their names were given to the relevant authorities.

But two years on, there are no visible signs that appropriate actions are being taken to investigate at least allegations related to those 892 people.

The public grew impatient and demanded that all the names from the list - particularly those 892 - be revealed.

Lat week, Oslobodjenje received a list with these names from “a source at the prosecutor’s office” and started publishing them. In two days, they revealed names of about 130 potential suspects employed by governmental and municipal institutions.

The daily’s editor-in-chief Senka Kurtovic says this was the right thing to do.

“It’s a shame that even two years after this report was compiled people suspected of being involved in the massacre are still in positions of power - the least I expected was that they would be suspended until investigations into these allegations are carried out. But nothing happened,” she said.

Several Bosnian Serbs whose names were revealed in Oslobodjenje last week immediately filed complaints to the RS interior ministry.

“These people are in distress - revealing their names before any official charges were brought against them was stupid and unfair,” RS police director Uros Pena told IWPR.

Spokesman for the Bosnian prosecutor, Boris Grubesic, partly agrees with this view. He says that most people on this list are not even labeled as suspects. He adds that the prosecutor’s office has to have a good reason to even start investigating allegations that someone was involved in this crime.

“This is just a list of persons who were at the time of the war in that part of Bosnia, and by publishing the whole list, we would be manipulating it,” Bosnian prosecutor Marinko Jurcevic recently told Sarajevo’s Avaz Daily.

“There is no grounded suspicion that these persons have committed war crimes in Srebrenica, but the investigation is ongoing,” he was reported as saying.

Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency Sulejman Tihic issued a statement in July this year demanding that Jurcevic lift an embargo on making the list public, adding that hiding such information was “a direct violation of the Dayton Peace Agreement”. But Jurcevic refused, saying that would hamper the ongoing investigations.

When the Hague tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte visited Srebrenica this July, on the 11th anniversary of the massacre, she was widely reported in the local media as saying that she was never against publishing the list of names of potential suspects, and that she would personally “see to it that the list be made public soon”.

However, her spokesman Anton Nikiforov said at the press conference held in The Hague this week that Del Ponte’s words were “misinterpreted”.

“The prosecutor never meant to say that any confidential parts of the report - such as the list of names of persons who may have been involved in the crimes and should be investigated - should be published,” he said.

He added that the proper legal process requires investigation and indictment before the names of suspects are released to the public.

“In this case, we are talking about a list of almost 900 people - publication of their names without due process would be similar to an attempt to repair one injustice by another,” continued Nikiforov.

But Kurtovic says there is no excuse for the local judiciary to be so slow in looking into allegations from the Srebrenica commision report, which, she said “was compiled by relevant authorities, not some amateurs who shouldn’t be trusted.

“Only a handful of investigations based on this report are being carried out at the moment, which is unacceptable.”

Victims’ associations from Srebrenica have also become impatient and want to know the names of the people who might have participated in the slaughter of their loved ones.

“Among the names in that report is a person who executed my son. I want that person’s name to be published,” said Kada Hodzic from the Mothers of Srebrenica Association, whose son was among those who died in the mass executions. She says she is aware that it’s very unlikely that all the perpetrators will be brought to justice, or that all 28,000 individuals from the Srebrenica commission’s report will be investigated.

“But for those who did commit crimes and are on the list, seeing their names in public is also a punishment,” she added.

After publishing 130 names of persons mentioned in the report who are still in positions of power, Oslobodjenje chose not to reveal more, for the time being. This, says Kurtovic, was “due to pressure” on the source who provided them with this list in the first place. But she says her newspaper will release more names, as soon as they get “a green light” from their source.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.