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

War Crimes Fugitives Deaf to Relatives' Appeals

They refuse to surrender despite dramatic calls from their families to do so.
By IWPR and
Last week, the closest family members of war crimes fugitive Stojan Zupljanin publicly called on him to surrender and put an end to their agony.



In a letter sent to newspapers in Banja Luka on March 18, Zupljanin’s two sons Pavle and Mladen and wife Divna apparently said they were “in their own prison” and that “all their chances of a normal life have been taken away” since Zupljanin had gone into hiding.



“The situation is worse then ever - and, believe us, it will not get any better because you are hiding,” the family from Banja Luka reportedly stated in this letter.



“Friends and relatives that we have are afraid to be in contact with us fearing for their own safety. We are exposed to a great pressure from the police and international military forces, and as a result we cannot live normally.”



The family confirmed the authenticity of the letter to the Tanjug news agency in Banja Luka.



In December last year, the Belgrade daily Blic also published a letter written by Mladen Zupljanin in which he called on his father to turn himself in. He told reporters that his family was under huge pressure and could not have a normal life because his father was on the run.



According to Mladen Zupljanin, the family could not find work, could not sell their property and their bank accounts had been blocked, as well.



During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Zupljanin was chief of the Serb police in Banja Luka. He was first indicted at the Hague tribunal in December 1999, and is wanted for crimes against humanity and violating the laws and customs of war, including persecution, murder, torture and deportation of non-Serb population from north-western Bosnia.



Zupljanin is one of only four remaining fugitives from the Hague tribunal. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his army chief Ratko Mladic, as well as Goran Hadzic, are also on the run.



This week, Serbian police raided a house in the city of Nis in search of Zupljanin, but the operation did not result in any arrests.



On March 26, European Union and NATO forces deployed in Bosnia searched the homes of the wife, daughter and neighbour of Radovan Karadzic in the Bosnian town of Pale.



The raids were aimed at "putting pressure on networks" suspected of helping protect suspects, said an EU peacekeeping force, EUFOR.



In January, Bosnian police confiscated the passports of his wife, son, daughter and son-in-law in an attempt to prevent them from leaving the country.



Karadzic has been on the run since 1996.



On July 29, 2005, his wife Ljiljana Zelen Karadzic urged him to surrender in a short, yet very emotional address aired by all TV stations in Serbia.



“I beg you to come to that decision for the sake of all of us,” she said, holding back tears.



“Our family is under constant pressure from all sides,” she added, in the interview recorded at her house in Pale. “It's painful and hard but I beg you with all my heart and soul to surrender.”



However, none of the pleas of family members of the remaining war crimes fugitives have so far yielded results.



Observers in Banja Luka and Belgrade are not surprised by that.



Head of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republika Srpska Branko Todorovic said since it was acceptable for the fugitives to sacrifice thousands of lives for their own goals during the war, their decision to sacrifice their families as well is hardly surprising.



“It seems that the only people war crimes fugitives are not ready to sacrifice are themselves,” said Todorovic.



“They are not willing to defend their ideology or war time policy in the court, and they’ll rather evade justice and hide in mouse holes. Not even the appeals of their relatives, wives and children can bring them out.”



Biljana Kovacevic Vuco, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, agreed.



“Why should we expect that people who are accused of such grave crimes and who are still convinced that they did the right thing to show empathy for anyone, including their families?” she asked.



“I strongly believe that people who take part in such horrific crimes cannot love anyone, not even those close to them.”



However, supporters of the fugitives argue that the families have been unjustly exposed to pressure, which they say is unacceptable.



Kosta Cavoski, president of the International Committee for the Defense of Radovan Karadzic, said that the 2005 televised appeal of Ljiljana Zelen Karadzic to her husband to surrender was forced from her.



“At that time, her own son [Sasa Karadzic] was detained by the international forces and he was exposed to terrible abuse, so she was told it would continue unless she called on her husband to give himself up,” claimed Cavoski.



Although many observers think the decision of the war crimes suspects to remain at large is cowardly, their supporters, especially those in rural areas, believe these men are actually heroes.



The inhabitants of the small village of Sula in northwest Montenegro where Karadzic was born say they would never betray “the legend of the Serb people”.



“I would not hand over [Karadzic] for the whole world, not even for five million US dollars,” said one villager, who wished to remain anonymous, referring to the award offered by the US government for information that could lead to Karadzic and Mladic’s arrests.



“That would be a betrayal of my own people,” he added.



The fact that three of the four remaining fugitives are believed to be hiding in Serbia has cost this country dearly.



The signing of a key agreement with the EU which could open the doors for Serbia’s membership of the union has been conditioned on the arrest of the remaining fugitives. As a result, the agreement has already been postponed several times.



“I think it is really strange that people who were in the army and police do not feel the need to help their country by trying to defend themselves in court rather than hiding from justice,” said adviser to the Serbian president for cooperation with the Hague tribunal Jovan Simic.



“They are probably convinced that they are real Serbs fighting for truth, despite the fact that no-one knows what that truth is. They also totally ignore the pressure their families are exposed to. From a human point of view, I find it unacceptable.”



But he believes that suspects’ families can still contribute to the state’s efforts to bring the fugitives to justice.



Simic explained that the voluntary surrender of several Hague fugitives was successfully negotiated through their families, suggesting that most of those on the run have not cut ties with relatives.



He emphasised that the fugitives’ decision to continue hiding in spite of the appeals for surrender from their families could be the result of several factors.



“Whether it is fear of the tribunal, or fear of the consequences of something they have done, or simply an incredible lack of trust in the system and the tribunal, I do not know. All I know is that I could not do it.”