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

Tolimir Trial May Shed New Light on Srebrenica

Captured suspect, along with Mladic and Karadzic, considered by prosecution to be most responsible for the massacre.
By Caroline Tosh
The trial of Zdravko Tolimir could reveal fresh details about the events that took place at Srebrenica in July 1995, and even lead to Mladic’s capture, say legal experts.

Tolimir – the former assistant commander for intelligence and security of the Bosnian Serb army, VRS - is now in the Hague’s detention unit, after being arrested on the border between Serbia and Bosnia's Serb entity, Republika Srpska, RS, on May 31.

Until this week, the high-ranking officer was the tribunal’s third most wanted fugitive - after Bosnian Serb wartime army commander General Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who have successfully evaded arrest since being indicted for genocide nearly 12 years ago.

Tolimir, along with Mladic and Karadzic, are considered by the prosecution to be the most responsible for the events that took place at Srebrenica.

Legal experts say that the trial of Tolimir - who took orders directly from Mladic - could produce vital information on what happened at Srebrenica.

Some even suggest his arrest could also lead to the capture of Mladic, as Tolimir is thought to be a key figure in the network of supporters said to be hiding the ex-general.

On July 11 and 12, the UN-protected Srebrenica enclave was overrun by the VRS, and some 8,000 men and boys were killed in what has been termed as the worst war-time atrocity in Europe since World War II.

Tolimir - who has been on the run since being indicted in February 2005 - stands charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, murder and extermination.

The indictment against him accuses him of being part of a plan - along with others, including Karadzic and Mladic - to murder the able-bodied men of Srebrenica.

It says that former VRS colonel Ljubo Beara was “given authority for organising, coordinating and facilitating the detention, transportation, summary execution, and burial of the Muslim victims”, and that Tolimir supervised him in this.

Beara is currently on trial with six other former VRS and police officers in the third Srebrenica case to come before the tribunal. Five of the men - including Beara - face genocide-related charges.

Judges at both the tribunal and the International Court of Justice have found that genocide took place at Srebrenica.

But since former VRS commander Vidoje Blagojevic’s conviction for complicity to commit genocide at Srebrenica was overturned last month, General Radislav Krstic is the only person who has been convicted on a genocide-related charge so far.

Krstic was originally convicted of being a part of joint criminal enterprise to commit genocide – but was found guilty of only “aiding and abetting” the crime on appeal in April 2004, and his sentence was cut from 46 to 35 years’ imprisonment.

Krstic’s testimony could prove useful in the prosecution’s case against Tolimir.

In a recorded interview, which was made public in summer 2000, he told investigators that Mladic appointed a hand-picked group of officers to oversee the military operation in Srebrenica. Among these officers were Tolimir, as well as Beara, head of security at the main VRS headquarters.

These officers were “untouchable”, Krstic claimed. They were "the main order-makers and executioners of everything that took place between 12 and 20 July 1995”.

While it’s possible that Tolimir’s case could be added to that of Beara and his six co-accused - which began on July 4, 2006 - the advanced state of this trial means it’s unlikely.

Goran Sluiter, professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam, says that merging the trials at this stage could prove problematic.

“Joining the case with the other Srebrenica accused would cause a lot of problems from the perspective of the rights of the accused,” he said.

Sluiter says Tolmir’s arrest and trial is likely to shed light on what went on at Srebrenica.

“This is one of the most important figures. With this person you get even closer to the top. This will assist in fact finding,” he said.

Ben Ward, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, agrees - and suggests that the capture of the fugitive could be key to securing a conviction against Mladic should he ever be brought to trial.

“Tolimir is a high-level suspect, and his ties to Mladic may increase the likelihood that Mladic be brought to justice,” he told IWPR.

William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, said that with Tolimir’s arrest, the noose is tightening around Mladic. He suggests it’s possible that Tolimir - like Krstic - might further incriminate Mladic with his testimony.

" I think, like other defendants, he may be interested in cooperating with the prosecutor and I would hope that might lead to Mladic's capture," he said.

Dr Dejan Djokic, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, is also hopeful.

"[The arrest] is a positive sign because it shows that Mladic's days in hiding may be coming to an end," he said.

Caroline Tosh and Sara Goodman are IWPR reporters.

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