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

Postavljeno pitanje kvaliteta sistema pravne pomoći

One of the latest controversies to hit the ICTY is the role of plea agreements in Tribunal practice. Some have alleged that plea agreements are part of an OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) strategy to clear their docket and quickly dispose of cases before the 2010 end date established by the United Nations. Whatever influence the end date may or may not have on OTP thinking, plea agreements serve a very significant function -- they help establish truth. Some of the OTP's best evidence comes from high level insiders, who themselves have been indicted. Without this direct evidence, prosecution cases can be painstakingly difficult to prove, particularly for those charged with planning, organizing and directing ethnic cleansing or genocide. Perhaps more important, plea agreements and the truth they establish provide one of the better possibilities for reconciliation and stability in the war torn region.

A recent example is evidence given to the OTP by Miroslav Deronjic who pled guilty to one count of crimes against humanity for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Bratunac in 1993, which left the village decimated and 65 civilians dead. As head of the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party) in Bratunac, Deronjic was also involved in the crimes at Srebrenica in 1995, though he was not criminally charged for his role. So far, he has testified in the trial of Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic, the sentencing hearing of Momir Nikolic and an evidentiary hearing in the Radislav Krstic appeal, all Srebrenica-related. Given his presence in Srebrenica and close association with Radovan Karadzic, he can expect to make frequent visits to the witness chair in the future, as well. The OTP has recommended that Deronjic be sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the Court has yet to make its judgment..

Deronjic was the first witness in any trial to link Radovan Karadzic with the crimes committed in Srebrenica. Recently, the Prosecution filed the text of its June/July 2003 interviews of him with its application to present additional evidence to the Krstic Appeals Panel.* The Deronjic interviews were conducted as part of his plea negotiation process. They clearly show why Deronjic's testimony as a willing witness is so valuable. He was in frequent contact with Republika Srpska (RS) President Radovan Karadzic before, during and after the ethnic cleansing and massacres of Srebrenica.

Miroslav Deronjic was a close ally of Karadzic, serving on the Main Board of the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party) which governed the RS. In June 1995, following a meeting of the SDS Main Board, Deronjic first learned of plans for Srebrenica. Karadzic took Deronjic aside and told him, 'Miroslav, in Srebrenica there is going to be a military operation soon. I can't give you any details and please do not mention this to anyone. However, take steps, or measures that you think appropriate in Bratunac upon your return.' Deronjic began making preparations for feeding and housing a large military force in his area.

On visiting the Bosnian Serb frontline in the Bratunac area, Deronjic became seriously concerned that the troops in the area lacked the skills necessary for such a campaign. Within a week, he headed for Pale (seat of RS Government) to consult with Karadzic.

Arriving in Pale on July 8 or 9, Deronjic found Karadzic with Momcilo Krajisnik, President of the RS Assembly, and Jovica Stanisic, Chief of Serbia's State Security. When he approached, Karadzic introduced him to Stanisic as 'one of our guys, from the field.' Deronjic concluded the three men had been talking about Srebrenica. Stanisic’s presence and potential knowledge about the planned Srebrenica operation provides the first, still very tenuous link to Serbia, other than a sighting of Ratko Mladic, Bosnian Army Commander, with Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on July 7.

In a private conversation with Karadzic, Deronjic said he could tell from touring the area that the planned military operation at Srebrenica was not routine. He wanted to know its specific goal, Deronjic told the OTP. 'And he [Karadzic] said all right, Deronjic, I will tell you openly what is it about.' Karadzic described two options: 1) reducing the size of the protected zone; 2) a military takeover of Srebrenica. Option 2 was conditional on how the military operation developed on the ground.

Deronjic, worried about the lack of military capacity, urged Karadzic to see that 'a serious military unit' is brought into the area. He suggested Ljubisa Borovcanin's Special Police Brigade. After hearing Deronjic stress how serious the matter was on the ground, Karadzic said he would consult the RS Minister of the Interior and see what could be done. In the event, Borovcanin was sent to Srebrenica to take charge of a joint force of police units. This is strong evidence that Karadzic was intimately involved with the plan to attack the Safe Area. The remainder of the conversation reported by Deronjic provides equally strong evidence linking Karadzic to the massacres.

During the conversation, Karadzic asked Deronjic how many residents were in the Srebrenica area. When he replied about 40,000, Karadzic wanted to know what they (the Bratunac municipal authorities) planned to do with them. Deronjic responded, 'Mr. President, there is no way I could even suppose how the events would unfold following the entry into Srebrenica. . . . And then he said the following sentence to me: 'Miroslav, all of them need to be killed.'' This contains as clear a statement of intent to commit genocide as one can imagine. 'And then he added: everything you can get your hands on . . . . 'along the lines of Western Slavonia.'' Deronjic explained that it was believed the 'Croats killed everyone they could get their hands on' when they attacked Serbs in Western Slavonia. Srebrenica, at least to some extent, appears to have been motivated by revenge, though not directed against the Croats, but against the more hated Muslims.

Back in the region on July 11, Deronjic learned that the order had been given for Bosnian Serb forces to enter Srebrenica. Shortly after, he received an urgent order to call Karadzic. The RS President wanted confirmation that their forces had entered Srebrenica and to know if it was correct that there were many civilians in Potocari (the UN base to which citizens of Srebrenica town fled when it fell to the Bosnian Serbs). Deronjic didn't have complete information, but promised to investigate and get back to him. Karadzic then turned to discussing his recent action appointing Deronjic Civilian Commissioner for Srebrenica. When told his main task was to deal with the civilians in Srebrenica, Deronjic asked for instructions. Karadzic directed him to get in touch with Mladic, the Muslims and UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) and give the Muslim civilians three options: 1) to stay in Srebrenica, 2) to go to Bosnian Muslim held territory, 3) to go to third countries. The only real option, he said, was the second. Since his relationship with Mladic was problematic, Deronjic asked Karadzic to inform Mladic directly.

Karadzic asked if Deronjic knew whether there were men among the civilians, then warned him that war criminals might try to hide among them. Deronjic continued, ''And insist on that, Miroslav, that those people must be kept behind, or held.' And he even said that we should insist, meaning the Serbs, the Army, the authorities, we should insist on that, because it is something that we had a right to do under customs . . . of war.' In the event, Deronjic didn’t have to insist, as Dutch Bat willingly assisted with the separation of the men and boys.

During the night, the fall of Srebrenica -- with little resistance -- was confirmed, as was the fact that 'a vast number of civilians' were in Potocari at the UN compound. It appeared a large number of military age men had fled to Konjevic Polje.

The next morning, Deronjic attended a meeting Mladic organized with UNPROFOR (Dutch Bat) and Bosnian Muslim representatives. Mladic addressed the Bosnian Muslims, telling them they had a choice. All the Muslims who handed over weapons would be allowed to go to Potocari. [In a video clip secured by the OTP – and filmed by the Bosnian Serbs – Mladic is recorded telling the Bosnian Muslim representatives at this meeting that their choice is to turn over their weapons or disappear.] The Bosnian Muslims who remained in Potocari were unarmed civilians, including men and boys who felt unable to strike out through the woods or were unwilling to leave their families. The refugees had no way to turn over the weapons Mladic demanded.

When Deronjic realized that Mladic had no intention of allowing him to explain Karadzic’s three options to the refugees, he took the floor and did so anyway. He also told them that those suspected of committing crimes were to be held behind. 'I was intending to say a few more sentences, however, Mladic interrupted me. He cut me off quite arrogantly and strongly. . . .”

Deronjic then returned to his office to call Karadzic and report on the meeting. “I told him that the Muslim representatives quite explicitly stated that they wanted to leave Srebrenica.” They then discussed the number of people in Potocari (about 20,000) and how to arrange transportation out of the enclave.

As buses arrived and convoys started leaving, Col. Dragomir Vasic, head of Zvornik Security Center, told Deronjic men were being separated from the women. Deronjic asked if it was a selective separation or a general separation, advising him that if it was a general separation he should tell Mladic “it was completely senseless to be doing this in front of UNPROFOR.” A selective separation would have indicated checking for known war criminals. A general separation indicated Karadzic’s directive to “kill them all” was being implemented.

Karadzic called the morning of July 13 to learn how the evacuation of civilians was proceeding. Deronjic told him more than half had been transported and the operation would be completed during the course of the day. When he asked about troops, Deronjic advised him they were engaged in combat in the Konjevic Polje area with perhaps 12,000 to 15,000 Bosnian Muslim troops. He further said that they “were already capturing or arresting people and that there had been some liquidations of Muslims. . . .” Karadzic ordered him to come to Pale the next day.

That afternoon or evening, Borovcanin told Deronjic there had been a massacre of Muslims at the Kravica warehouse. The police commander explained that a Muslim prisoner had grabbed a rifle, killed one policeman and wounded several more. Out of revenge, the policemen threw bombs into a warehouse where prisoners were being held. Over 300 people were killed. Deronjic dutifully reported the massacre to Karadzic.

By this time, Bosnian Muslim men captured from the column in the Konjevic Polje area were being brought to Bratunac in trucks and buses. There were so many, that available buildings such as schools, hangars and a stadium were soon filled beyond capacity, and some of the prisoners had to remain in trucks and buses overnight. Deronjic was concerned about security with so many prisoners in his town. Then he heard Mladic had issued an order for the military to move towards Zepa, another Safe Area. Deronjic became upset because he felt “Mladic just wanted to distance himself from the whole problem and just leave, with the military, basically cover himself [with?] the paperwork and leave and let the civilian authorities, possibly police, be responsible for the faith [fate] of the Muslim prisoners.” Remembering what Karadzic told him on July 8 or 9 (that all the Muslims were to be killed), he suddenly “realised that they were going to kill them in Bratunac.” Deronjic headed for the military telehone to call Karadzic.

Deronjic was unable to recall his exact words to Karadzic because they spoke partly through intermediaries and partly in code. The substance of what he tried to convey, however, was “that if anybody intended to kill all those people in Bratunac that that was completely mad because there were lot of journalists there, international forces and various other [humanitarian] services doing their work.” Karadzic said he would send someone with instructions. And, in a coded sentence, the RS President said, “Miroslav, before the dawn, the goods have to be in the warehouse. . . .” For emphasis he added, “Did you understand?” Derjonic replied that he did. In his interview with the OTP, Deronjic did not decode the message. However, other testimony has revealed that bodies were referred to as “parcels” in intercepted telephone conversations.

Within a few hours, Colonel Ljubisa Beara from the VRS Main Staff entered Deronjic’s office unannounced. Simic and Vasic were also there, and possibly Momir Nikolic who testified in the Blagojevic trial that he was there, though Deronjic cannot recall. Beara said he had come about the prisoners, that all of them needed to be killed. When Deronjic realized he was going to speak in an “uncontrolled manner,” he suggested Simic leave so he would not be implicated.

Deronjic was anxious that the killings not occur in Bratunac, his territory. He told his visitor that Karadzic had ordered the prisoners be taken towards Bijeljina, the prison at Batkovic and Zvornik. He insisted that no prisoners were to be killed in Bratunac. Beara was unhappy. His orders, which came from the “top” (possibly Mladic), were to carry out the executions in Bratunac. Eventually, Beara “unwillingly consented” to transport the prisoners away from Bratunac.

The following day (July 14), Deronjic once again traveled to Pale as directed by Karadzic, where he gave the RS President a full report on activities in the field up to that time, including the transport of women and children out of the enclave, the conversation with Beara and his eventual agreement to send the prisoners out of Bratunac, the Kravica warehouse massacre, and the status of combat. They also discussed the founding of the War Presidency in Srebrenica and Deronjic’s appointment as its President.

Deronjic identified some of the units involved in the Srebrenica operations: members of the Bratunac Brigade, the protection regiment, the sabotage detachment, some police units, military police units from other municipalities. When the OTP asked if he had any information that police forces from Serbia were present, he stated that he saw a person he knew from the Red Berets, with a few of his men, in Srebrenica somewhere between July 12 – 14. The Red Beret was on his way to find Mladic in Potocari. If forces from Serbia were involved in Srebrenica, it was a closely held secret.

It was not long after the massacres that rumors started leaking out to the international media. Deronjic proposed to secure a written statement from Dutch Bat asserting that the Bosnian Serbs had properly carried out the evacuation of civilians. Though agreeing it would be fantastic to have such a document, Karadzic didn’t believe Dutch Bat would sign. They did. Karadzic was very happy and said Deronjic should be decorated for it. Karadzic advisor Jovan Zametica was even more explicit about the value of the document, “Miroslav,” Deronjic quoted him, “this is wonderful that you’ve managed to do this, and now we will be able to show the world that we did not kill . . . that . . . this is proof that we did the whole evacuation properly.” “But of course,” Deronjic told the OTP, “this did not completely correspond to the truth.” The document was sent to the UN.

Deronjic also learned that Muslims who were killed in Bratunac were buried in mass graves in Glogova and Halilovici. He dutifully informed Karadzic. Later, he learned from Momir Nikolic that these graves had been dug up in September or October 1995, by order of the military and the bodies reburied in the area of Zeleni Jadar and Cizmici.

In August, when Karadzic visited Srebrenica, Deronjic spent some time alone with him discussing the executions. Deronjic reported that he believed the prisoners taken to Zvornik were all killed, though he didn’t then know how many that included. Karadzic appeared already aware of it and cautioned Deronjic not to speak openly about it.

Deronjic continued to worry about Srebrenica and to discuss his worries with Karadzic on several occasions. In his interview with the OTP, Deronjic claimed that though he knew the prisoners were to be killed, he had no idea that “seven, eight or 10,000” people would be killed.

On one occasion he raised his concern with Karadzic when Krajisnik and RS Vice-President Nikola Koljevic were present. Krajisnik found an excuse to leave with Koljevic, while Deronjic addressed his concerns to the President. “I said that the state must do something about Srebrenica, and I remember also saying that Srebrenica will be the reason why we would lose the state. . . . Deronjic didn’t believe the whole truth would be discovered, “but what I wanted was, what I said was, let’s just do anything so in that way we could cover it up and just say to the world, well, this is what we have done to investigate what’s happened.” Karadzic didn’t appear interested. “[H]e listened to everything that I said, and at one point he said, ‘we’ll see, we’ll try to do something’, but I saw that there was a lack of any serious will to do anything about this.”

Deronjic concluded, “I don’t recall having any other serious conversation with Karadzic about that topic. Quite soon after that I resigned as Vice-President of the party, and then Karadzic went into hiding. . . .” Deronjic began speaking with the OTP in 1997.

The information Deronjic has provided the OTP is every prosecutor’s dream. Here is a high level insider, constantly in touch with the RS President, who has given a detailed account of genocide in the making, its implementation and its cover up. He does not present a complete picture. He was not privy to discussions at the Army’s Main Staff level, nor was he a confidant of Mladic. But his conversations with Karadzic reveal that the President contemplated genocide at least as early as June. All that was needed was for events to unfold in a manner that would allow it to be carried to its conclusion.

While Deronjic might have been subpoened to testify in the Blagojevic and other trials without a plea agreement, he might also have proved as problematic as insider witnesses at the Milosevic trial – whose paramount interest is in protecting themselves and the system they served. Their resulting testimony is convoluted and contradictory, undermining at least to a degree their credibility and, thus, limiting the usefulness of their evidence in getting at the truth.

For those who think the OTP is handing out plea agreements right and left, the length of OTP discussions with Deronjic should provide a partial response. This is not a back room poker game. Nor is the prosecutor a pushover who can be manipulated and lied to. After ten years of investigations, the OTP has considerable evidence with which to judge any Accused’s admissions. Momir Nikolic may have lied to the OTP, but it was a lie that was corrected forthwith. His plea agreement did not rest on that lie. Skilled prosecutors and investigators questioned the Accused in repeated sessions. A plea agreement is not a cake walk.

Plea agreements in the ICTY differ from those in domestic criminal cases. They serve a greater purpose than management of an overloaded court docket, for they provide one of the best available historical records. While it is most important to hear from and record victim/survivor experiences, a perpetrator’s full disclosure accompanied by an admission of guilt solidifies the record. Some victims will feel relieved to have their stories verified. Others will take great exception to any reduced sentence and being denied a full public airing of the crimes.

The greatest potential of a guilty plea is with those who have been so thoroughly propagandized for so long that their worldview has been distorted to the point they cannot admit any information that might disturb it. When those who have helped create and who have benefited from this distorted worldview tell the truth, there is some hope for breaking through denial and seeing differently. For reconciliation at a community level, people have to reach a common understanding of truth. Despite its limitations, the plea agreement is one strategy for moving toward that goal.

*The Krstic trial was completed on June 26, 2001. In the meantime, additional evidence has become available to both prosecution and defence. ICTY Rule 115 allows the Appeals Court to grant leave to present such evidence where the interests of justice so require. Krstic was convicted of genocide and other crimes associated with Srebrenica and sentenced to 46 years in prison, which he is appealing.