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CASE BLAGOJEVIC: NEW FAILURE OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE

May 10, 2007
“I DID NOT KNOW, THEREFORE, I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE”

EDITORIAL by Srebrenica Genocide Blog
(Feel free to republish with references)

Short Intro: How to win genocide acquittal with cheap arguments available at your local coffee bar? It would be quite humorous if it weren’t so sad. Failures of international justice continue at a rapid rate. Consider recent judgment in a case of Serb Col. Vidoje Blagojevic, whose forces participated in a genocide of over 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica during deadly moments of 7/11 1995…

Today, we have witnessed ‘continuity’ of failures produced by the United Nations and the International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It all started with the 1995 massacre in the “safe enclave” of Srebrenica, where over 8,000 Bosniaks were summarily executed by the Bosnian Serb Army in front of very noses of the UN peacekeepers. Not to mention catastrophic failures with respect to the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, where Chief UN War Crimes Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, made a deal with Belgrade to keep crucial evidence censored (as a result, this type of censorship of evidence may have saved Serbia from genocide resonsibility at the International Crimes Tribunal.)

Today, we have witnessed another catastrophy at the ICTY where Serb Col. Vidoje Blagojevic won acquittal on his earlier complicity in genocide conviction. Vidoje Blagojevic who, by the way, happens to facially resemble Adolf Hitler (see photo), seemed unmoved. Neverthless, in January 2005, the ICTY handed down the second Srebrenica Genocide judgment finding Col. Vidoje Blagojevic guilty of complicity in genocide committed after the fall of the UN protected enclave in July 1995; the U.N. sentenced him to 18 years of imprisonment. But today, the Tribunal’s appeals chamber had a change of heart and concluded that Col. Blagojevic, former commander of Bratunac Brigade of Republika Srpska Army, supposedly did not know about the mass murders taking place and “was only providing logistical support”. Our initial response to this judgment was: “Yeah, right. Another insult to human intelligence. How much insult can a reasonable human being really take?”

As concluded by the chamber, this means that Col. Blagojevic “did not share the intention to commit genocide,” stated chairman Judge Fausto Pocar (Italian). If we could go all the way back to 1991, it would be beneficial to let Judge Fausto Pocar spend years in the enclave under siege, and experience (the first hand) how it felt to be subjected to Col. Blagojevic’s terror; not to mention widespread starvation and lack of medical necessities. Maybe only then, Judge Fausto Pocar would have clearer picture of genocidal sufering that Col. Blagojevic’s forces subjected citizens of Srebrenica to.

Only a naive fool can believe that Col. Blagojevic did not know about Genocide when his forces were committing it. In fact, original judges agreed he was responsible for complicity in genocide; however, Judge Fausto Pocar disagreed. It would be interesting to know true leanings of Judge Fausto Pocar – is he objective (as any judge should be), or does he takes sides? Clearly, original judges saw the case in a different light. Sadly, victims of genocide and their traumatized families will never be able to reverse events of 7/11 1995. At that time, armed forces of Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic and the Bosnian Serb war-time leader Radovan Karadzic, rounded up over 8,000 Srebrenica Bosniaks (includings hundreds of children), summarily killed them, threw them in mass graves, later reburied them in different locations to hide the crime, and forcefully expelled thousands of other Bosniaks from their homes. There will be no appeal for victim’s lives; however, war criminals will continue to have “second chances” with respect to technicalities of appeals and endless liberal philosophies.

Another Judge, Mohamed Shahabuddeen (Guyana), dissented on several grounds with Judge Fausto Pocar’s errors in logic. Some of dissenting arguments were in favor of Col. Blagojevic’s appeal, and some against – most notably on the ground to reverse Col. Blagojevic’s original conviction for complicity in genocide.

By the same decision, the chamber has supported the earlier verdict against Dragan Jokic – former chief of engineers of Zvornik Brigade, Republika Srpska Army – sentencing him to nine years’ imprisonment.

While it is extremely hard to prove genocide (almost impossible), once convicted – it is much easier to manipulate the system and get an acquittal, as evidenced in the case of Blagojevic. It seems that Judges are receptive to cheap defence arguments that people “did not know” or “did not intend” to commit genocide. So, according to the indictment against the two, Col. Blagojevic’s troops were involved in separation of men and women and their taking away in buses after the Army of Republika Srpska had entered Srebrenica. Jokic organised the machinery and forces needed for the digging of mass graves of more than 8,000 people killed in Srebrenica.

It seem in this world of ‘insecurity’, ironically only weapons of mass destruction may provide some security and guarantee of survival for those in danger – as the UN has proved to be totaly incapable to save those who can’t save themselves. For example, we witness genocide in Darfur unfolding every day while the UN fails to do anything to protect those poor people from barbarianism initiated by the Sudanese Arab-controlled government. The UN even avoids calling events in Darfur genocide, classifying it as a “massacre.” No wonder Israel does not have much confidence in the United Nations. Those who tirelessly criticize Israel’s nuclear weapons can’t seemingly understand that this small state absolutely needs it to protect itself from total destruction. In a world where small nations can’t rely on the United Nations’ protection, it is obvious that the rule of force is the only rule that guarantees survival.

Based on the allegations in the indictment, the prosecution had requested a sentence of 15 to 20 years for Jokic and 32 years for Blagojevic. The appeals judges, led by Judge Fausto Pocar, upheld Blagojevic’s other convictions for aiding and abetting murder, persecutions on political and racial grounds and inhumane acts. They also upheld the murder, extermination and persecution on racial grounds convictions of Dragan Jokic, 49, a major in the Bosnian Serb army’s Zvornik brigade. Both men were acquitted of allegations of command responsibility. The court said the men had merely passed on orders, rather than given them. Basically, anybody can use this argument as a defence – even Gen Ratko Mladic (if he ever gets caught). He could simply claim that he was passing orders from Radovan Karadzic or even late Slobodan Milosevic, and wash his hands from any responsibility. Therefore, the Blagojevic’s verdict is a total insult to any reasonable person’s intelligence. It seems that – after all – crime pays, given the fact of ridicolous lengths of sentences that were handed down to most (if not all) ICTY convicts for mass killings, rapes, persecutions, crimes against humanity, even genocide.

Another interesting observation worth pointing out is that by Mike Corder, the Associated Press correspondent, who reported on Col. Blagojevic’s total lack of emotions as well as his courage to shout – not in front of judges, but behind their backs (as is the most notable trait of those considered cowards). At least, Slobodan Milosevic was “brave” enough to entertain International judges by shouting at them and making all kinds of funny faces. Here are some examples of Milosevic in front of international judges photo one and photo two. Unfortunately, Milosevic was struck with heart attack, and therefore failed to be convicted on 66 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. Back to Col. Blagojevic, Mike Corder notes:

“The two men’s trial exposed the grim mechanics of genocide, Blagojevic’s troops helped separate the men and women and load them onto on buses after Bosnian Serb troops and paramilitaries overran the eastern Bosnian enclave. Jokic organized machinery and troops to dig mass graves for some of the more than 8,000 Muslim men massacred…. Blagojevic appeared unmoved as the decision was read, but as the judges walked out of the court room, he shouted: ‘This is outrageous. You are protecting the criminal behavior of (Michael) Karnavas in the court room.’ Karnavas was a court-appointed defense attorney with whom Blagojevic refused to cooperate” (UN Appeals Judges Reverse Bosnian Serb Army Officer’s Srebrenica Genocide Conviction)

The Appeals Chamber stated that “no reasonable trier of fact could find beyond reasonable doubt that, without knowledge of the mass killings, Mr. Blagojevic’s awareness of the other facts related to the forcible transfer operation shows that he had knowledge of the principal perpetrators’ genocidal intent”. With respect to the “principal perpetrator’s genocidal intent”, the Judge was clearly refering to the indicted architects of the massacre, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic, both on the run, more than a decade after being indicted for genocide. There is a little or no hope they will ever be caught, as they are regarded as “holy” and “heroes” of mythical proportions among general Serb population.

So far, The ICTY has passed legally binding verdicts against six people indicted for Srebrenica genocide and crimes committed in Srebrenica since 1993, including the verdict for genocide against General Radislav Krstic, former commander of Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army. The International Court of Justice also passed a verdict recognizing Srebrenica massacre as genocide in a case of Bosnia vs. Serbia. Additionally, trials against seven more Srebrenica indictees are ongoing, and three are still to start. Other trials are ongoing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  1. Rosa Davis
    May 13, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    The international criminal legal system must change its stance towards the interpretation of the requisite elements for genocide in order to allow more perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions. As long as we continue to allow people to get away with these crimes through a lack of legal enforcement, we tacitly encourage more of these crimes to occur as perpetrators will assume that they may not be held accountable.

  2. Owen
    May 14, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Rosa, you’re right. It is very hard to read through the Krajisnik judgment and understand how the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate the mens rea. It is just about understandable that initially there was going to be caution about setting the standards of proof of intent but I think it’s becoming clear that this cautious approach is thwarting the purpose of the Genocide Convention.

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