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

Tolimir Led Organised Brutality

Prosecution sets out case in trial of former senior Bosnian Serb army official.
By IWPR ICTY
The prosecution in the Hague war crimes trial of Zdravko Tolimir alleged this week that the former Republika Srpska, RS, general had chosen to carry out a campaign of “starvation, ethnic cleansing and genocide”.



Tolimir, the former assistant commander for military intelligence and security in the RS army general staff, is charged with eight counts including genocide, conspiring to perpetrate genocide, extermination, murder, expulsion, forced transfer of population and deportation of Bosniaks from Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995.



According to prosecutor Nelson Thayer, Tolimir was a highly educated military officer who had “chosen to lead the organised brutality which he had known.. would lead to crimes against humanity".



He said Tolimir was charged with genocide for two reasons.



"First, as he took part in the joint criminal enterprise of the military and civilian leadership of the Bosnian Serbs aimed at expelling the Muslim population from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves," Thayer said.



"Second, because he helped, supervised and authorised the organised detention, execution and burial of thousands of Muslim men and children, following the realisation of the joint plan whose basis had been the elimination of the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves."



Prosecutors say that this criminal plan was led by former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Biljana Plavsic and General Ratko Mladic.



Karadzic gave his opening statement in his war crimes trial at the Hague tribunal this week. Mladic has been indicted by the Hague court on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity, but remains a fugitive.



Krajisnik and Plavsic have both been convicted by the tribunal. The former was handed a 20-year jail sentence. The latter was sent to prison for 11 years, but granted early release in October 2009.



According to the prosecution, Tolimir had an important role in the implementation of the alleged Bosnian Serb plan to rid the eastern part of Bosnia of members of other ethnic communities, particularly Bosniaks.



To support this argument, the prosecutor pointed to a document from the Bosnian Serb assembly from May 12, 1992, where Karadzic had published the "strategic goals” of the community.



"Six strategic goals were proclaimed, and for the people of Srebrenica and Zepa two of them would become the fire to blaze their homes at the end of the war,” Thayer said.



“The flame of ethnic and religious hatred spread and culminated in a horrendous hell that..ultimately swallowed more than 7,000 men and boys from Srebrenica in the killing fields of eastern Bosnia."



The prosecutor went on to tell the court how his team planned to present its case, using "all available evidence" at its disposal. This will include witness testimonies, military documents, intercepted conversations, photographs, audio and video recordings, aerial photography and forensic evidence collected from the Srebrenica investigation.



The prosecution claims it will prove that Tolimir was the closest associate of Mladic.



"Evidence will show that General Mladic personally told the People's Assembly of RS in April 1995, and I quote, ‘Mr Tolimir is my closest associate in this war… and he has spent the most years with me'," he said.



Thayer went on to allege that Mladic often sent Tolimir onto the battlefield to ensure that his orders were carried out by the troops on the ground.



While describing the preparation and the individual stages of the Srebrenica operations, the prosecution especially underlined the directives, orders and other documents of the main command and the Drina Corps of the RS army, which, according to the indictment, confirm the participation of Tolimir in the coordination of the operation of the expulsion of the Muslim population and the murder of thousands of men temporarily detained between Bratunac and Zvornik in eastern Bosnia.



Thayer said that the prosecution will prove that Tolimir was in permanent contact with the main command of the RS army as well as with the Drina Corps command in 1995 and that he was actively involved in the whole process of decision-making, in particular the imprisonment, murder and burial of prisoners. The prosecution also claims that Tolimir controlled the appointment of commanders of corps and special units.



Thayer said they had evidence on record demonstrating that the imprisonment, murder and burial of the prisoners were coordinated in the field by what the prosecution referred to as "Tolimir's men" and he had, according to the prosecutor, coordinated and supervised them. Among "Tolimir's men" were, the prosecution claims, the members of the 10th sabotage detachment of the Bosnian Serb army who, on July 16, 1995, executed more than 1,700 Bosniaks at the Branjevo military estate and the Pilica cultural centre.



"General Tolimir is one of the few people who were in position to save thousands of lives in Srebrenica and Zepa in the summer of 1995, but he failed to do so. Instead, he chose a plan of starvation, ethnic cleansing and genocide," said the prosecutor at the end of the opening statement.



Tolimir is the last accused who had awaited the beginning of his trial in the detention unit of the Hague tribunal, and is defending himself.



The first indictment against Tolimir was presented on February 25, 2005, and he was arrested on May 31, 2007. On December 16, 2009 he pleaded not guilty to all counts.



Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter.