Home > srebrenica massacre > DRAZEN ERDEMOVIC – GUILTY

DRAZEN ERDEMOVIC – GUILTY

December 11, 2005

Drazen Erdemovic (IT-96-22)

Soldier in the 10th Sabotage Detachment of the Bosnian Serb Army.

Born 25 November 1971 in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina
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Arrest / Surrendered

2 March 1996 arrested by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY)
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Transferred to ICTY

30 March 1996
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Initial Appearance

31 May 1996, pleaded “guilty” to the count of murder as a crime against humanity adding that he would have been killed if he had refused to do it. The Trial Chamber accepted the accused’s guilty plea and dismissed the alternative count of a violation of the laws and customs of war.
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Trial Chamber Sentencing Judgement

29 November 1996, sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment
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Appeals Chamber Judgement

7 October 1997. Case remitted to new Trial Chamber to give the accused the opportunity to re-plead.
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Re-plea before Trial Chamber

14 January 1998, pleaded “guilty” to the count of murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war. The Prosecutor withdrew the alternative count of murder as a crime against humanity.
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Second sentencing Judgement

5 March 1998, sentence substituted to one of five years’ imprisonment
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Sentence served

Transferred to Norway on 26 August 1998 to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Credit for time served since 28 March 1996.

31 May 1996, pleaded “guilty” to the count of murder as a crime against humanity adding that he would have been killed if he had refused to do it. The Trial Chamber accepted the accused’s guilty plea and dismissed the alternative count of a violation of the laws and customs of war.

Sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment
Served sentence in Norway

Crimes convicted of (examples):

Murder (crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war)

  • Participated in the shooting and killing of hundreds of unarmed Bosniak men from Srebrenica at the Pilica collective farm on or about 16 July 1995

  • Dražen Erdemovic personally killed about 70 people

The Indictment (“Pilica farm”)
The indictment against Dražen Erdemović, dated 22 May 1996 was confirmed on 29 May 1996. According to the indictment, after the take-over of the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica by the Bosnian Serb Army in July 1995, bus loads of Bosniak civilian men from Srebrenica, between the ages of approximately 17 and 60 years, were transferred to, amongst other places, a collective farm near Pilica in the Zvornik Municipality. On arrival at the farm, the Bosniak men were removed from each bus in groups of about 10 and escorted by members of the 10th Sabotage Detachment of the Bosnian Serb Army to a field adjacent to the farm buildings, where they were summarily executed.

As a soldier in the 10th Sabotage Detachment, Dražen Erdemović was charged for his shooting, killing and participating with other members of his unit and soldiers from another brigade in the shooting and killing of hundreds of unarmed Bosniak men on or about 16 July 1995.

Charges:
Drazen Erdemovic on the basis of individual criminal responsibility (Article 7(1) of the Statute) with:

Murder (Crime against humanity, Article 5) Or alternatively:
Murder (Violation of the laws or customs of war, Article 3)

Guilty Plea
At his initial appearance hearing on 31 May 1996, Dražen Erdemović pleaded guilty to the count of murder as a crime against humanity adding that he would have been killed if he had refused to participate in the murders. The Trial Chamber accepted the accused’s guilty plea and dismissed the alternative count of a violation of the laws or customs of war. A pre-sentence hearing was held on 19 and 20 November 1996.

Trial Chamber Sentencing Judgement
On 6 July 1995, the Srebrenica enclave was the target of attacks by the Bosnian Serb Army. At the time, the enclave was recognised by United Nations Security Council resolution 819 as a “safe area” which could not be the target of any armed offensive or other hostile act. The assault continued until 11 July 1995, the date when Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb forces.

The fall of the enclave triggered the flight of thousands of Bosniak civilians. Some sought refuge in the United Nations base at Potočari; others, about 15,000 people, fled across the woods towards Tuzla, an area under the control of the Bosnian Government.

After having been separated from the women and children by members of the Bosnian Serb police and army, an undetermined number of Bosniak men who had sought refuge in Potočari were transported by bus out of the enclave to various sites where they were to be executed. Many of the men who had fled towards Tuzla either surrendered or were arrested by the Bosnian Serb Army or police. Some were summarily executed while others were grouped together and killed later at various locations.

The first location in question is the Branjevo farm in Pilica where, according to the statement of the accused at the hearing, about 1,200 Bosniaks were executed by the soldiers of the unit of which Dražen Erdemović was a member. He admitted to having participated in the massacres. Exhumations performed there permitted the discovery of about 153 bodies, approximately half of which had their hands tied behind their back. Identity papers which had belonged to the victims, Bosniaks from the Srebrenica region, were also discovered. On-site observations also permitted the discovery of some clothing, shoes, human debris, in other words, things indicating that a mass grave might be located nearby. The existence of the mass grave, moreover, is attested to by aerial photographs taken on the date of the events which were presented to the Trial Chamber during the hearing of 19 November 1996.

The second location is the Pilica public building in the Zvornik municipality where, according to the statement of the accused at the hearing, about 500 Bosniaks were executed by members of the 10th Sabotage Unit. Members of the Office of the Prosecutor were able to visit the building, and observations confirm that massacres may have occurred there. Furthermore, photographs showing bullet marks, traces of blood, human remains and bits of hair were submitted to the Trial Chamber during the hearing.

On the morning of 16 July 1995, Dražen Erdemović and seven members of the 10th Sabotage Unit of the Bosnian Serb Army were ordered to leave their base at Vlasenica and go to the Pilica farm, north-west of Zvornik. When they arrived there, they were informed by their superiors that buses from Srebrenica carrying Bosniak civilians between 17 and 60 years of age who had surrendered to the members of the Bosnian Serb police or army would be arriving throughout the day.

Starting at 10 o’clock in the morning, members of the military police made the civilians in the first buses, all men, get off in groups of 10. The men were escorted to a field adjacent to the farm buildings where they were lined up with their backs to the firing squad. The members of the 10th Sabotage Unit, including Dražen Erdemović, who composed the firing squad, then killed them. Dražen Erdemović carried out the work with an automatic weapon. The executions continued until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

The accused estimated that there were about 20 buses in all, each carrying approximately 60 men and boys. He believes that he personally killed about 70 people.

The Trial Chamber stated that there was no valid reason for discussing the charge of crime against humanity since Dražen Erdemović pleaded guilty to this count.

At the conclusion of the analysis of all the facts brought to its attention and heard in the presence of both parties, the Trial Chamber considered that in view of the intrinsic gravity of his crime and the individual circumstances which surrounded its commission, that it was appropriate to grant to Dražen Erdemović the benefit of mitigating circumstances based on his age, his subordinate level, his remorse, his desire to surrender to the ICTY, his guilty plea, his cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor and the fact the he did not constitute a danger anymore. However the Judges deemed that they were unable to accept the plea of extreme necessity and considered it a mitigating circumstance because the Defence produced no testimony, evaluation or any other elements to corroborate what the accused said.

On 29 November 1996, the Trial Chamber rendered its judgement, sentencing Dražen Erdemović to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The Appeal
On 23 December 1996, counsel for Dražen Erdemović lodged an appeal against the sentencing judgement of 29 November 1996 asking the Appeals Chamber to revise the sentencing judgement, (a) by pronouncing the accused Dražen Erdemović guilty as charged, but excusing him from serving the sentence on the grounds that the offences were committed under duress and without the possibility of another moral choice, that is, in extreme necessity, and on the grounds that he was not accountable for his acts at the time of the offence, nor was the offence premeditated; or, in the alternative, (b) taking into consideration all the reasons stated in the appeal and the mitigating circumstances stated in the sentencing judgement, and consequently significantly reducing the sentence of the accused Dražen Erdemović.

Appeals Chamber Judgement:
The Appeals Chamber rendered its judgement on 7 October 1997. It unanimously rejected the appellant’s application that the Appeal Chamber should acquit him. The majority rejected the application that the Appeal Chamber should revise the sentence, found that duress would not afford a complete defence to a soldier charged with a crime against humanity and/or a war crime involving the killing of innocent human beings. It held, however, that Dražen Erdemović’s plea at his initial appearance had not been informed and thus remitted the case to a new Trial Chamber in order that the accused be given an opportunity to re-plead.

Plea Agreement
On 8 January 1998, both sides filed a “Joint Motion for Consideration of Plea Agreement between the Office of the Prosecutor and Dražen Erdemović”. Attached thereto was a plea agreement.

Re-Plea before a Trial Chamber
On 14 January 1998, Dražen Erdemović changed his plea to one of guilty with respect to the count of murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war. The Prosecutor withdrew the alternative count of murder as a crime against humanity.

Second Sentencing Judgement
The Trial Chamber rendered its judgement on 5 March 1998, sentencing Dražen Erdemović to 5 years’ imprisonment. The Office of the Prosecutor and the defence had jointly recommended that the Trial Chamber impose a sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment.

Whilst in no way bound by the plea agreement, the Trial Chamber took it into careful consideration in determining the sentence imposed upon the accused.

In its judgement, the Trial Chamber accepted as facts the version of events which the parties submitted, that is that the facts alleged in the indictment and the version of events described by Dražen Erdemović in his previous testimonies were statements of fact. Doing so, the Trial Chamber also accepted that Dražen Erdemović committed the offence in question under threat of death. There was a real risk that he would have been killed had he disobeyed the order: he had to kill or be killed.

The Chamber considered the magnitude of the crime and the scale of the accused’s role in it as aggravating circumstances. However, the Chamber considered it appropriate to grant to Dražen Erdemović the benefit of mitigating circumstances based on his age, his family background, his character, his admission of guilt, his remorse, his cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor and duress.

In addition to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the sentence determined by the Trial Chamber took into account the circumstances of the killings, looking in particular at the degree of suffering to which the victims of the massacre were subjected, the means used by Dražen Erdemović to kill and his attitude at this time. On the other hand, the Trial Chamber took into consideration also that he truthfully confessed his involvement in the massacre at a time when no authority was seeking to prosecute him in connection therewith, knowing that he would most probably face prosecution as a result.

Separate Opinion of Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen
Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen appended a separate opinion to the sentencing judgement in which he discussed certain propositions of law.

Conclusion of Proceedings
Neither party lodged an appeal against the second sentencing judgement. Consequently, on 2 July 1998, Jean-Jacques Heinz, the Deputy Registrar, certified that the trial and appellate proceedings were “definitely concluded”.

On 26 August 1998, Dražen Erdemović was transferred to Norway to serve his sentence.

keywords: Drazen Erdemovic, Srebrenica Genocide, Srebrenica Massacre, Bosniaks, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnia-Herzegovina

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