BiH: Arrests & Trials at the ICTY Continue …

The trial of former Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir started on 26 February 2010. At first, it seemed that the long anticipated trial will be covered with a lot of media attention in Bosnia as well as in the neighbouring countries. Instead, the following events threw Tolimir trial in the shadow as if it were never important.

General Zdravko Tolimir was a former high ranking official of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and was one of seven Assistant Commanders who reported directly to the commander of the General Staff, General Ratko Mladic. According to the indictment, Tolimir is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed between July and November 1995 against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and Zepa, eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.


The initial indictment against Tolimir was confirmed on 10 February 2005 and made public on 25 February 2005. He was arrested on 31 May 2007 walking alone by the road close to Sopotnik village. According to prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, it seemed that Rade Bulatovic, who at that time was Chief of the Serbian security-information agency (BIA), notified the police of Republika Srpska that Mladic or someone close to Mladic will be crossing the border.

Accordingly, on the first hearing Tolimir said that he was “arrested in the territory of the Republic of Serbia, the country in which he holds citizenship, and then transported to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina of which he is not a citizen of”. He also refused to plead guilty or innocent and demanded from the Court to investigate his “illegal arrest and kidnap by the group of criminals“. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia denied having anything to do with Tolimir’s arrest.

In the meantime, opening statements of the trial of Radovan Karadzic started on 1 March 2010. Radovan Karadzic, the mastermind behind the war in Bosnia and the president of Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, started his defence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). After postponing his trial for months and requesting more time to prepare his defence, the whole world started getting interested in the man who is accused of the worst genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. According to the indictment, Radovan Karadzic is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war.

During the opening statements, Karadzic testified that his people were defending themselves against Islamic fundamentalists who were trying to take over Bosnia. Karadzic trial is set to be the biggest and most important trial in the history of ICTY; there is no surprise that the trial of Tolimir got little attention. In the Western Balkans, where media dictates everything, Tolimir was just not as big as Karadzic.

The media also played an important role in 1992. It was used by Bosnian Serbs and other prominent figures to call for all men from Serbia to come to Bosnia to fight in aid of their brethren, claiming that Bosnian Muslims were killing Bosnian Serbs.

The appearance of Karadzic at the ICTY may have been the news of the month, if not of the year. However, soon later, just like the trial of Tolimir, Karadzic’s trial was lowered in the headline news rankings.


On 1st March 2010, the same day Karadzic was set to start his opening statements, former president of Bosnia Ejup Ganic was arrested at Heathrow airport in London after an arrest warrant was issued by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. He is accused of conspiracy to murder wounded soldiers in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Ejup Ganic, who was born in Serbia’s mainly Muslim Sandzak region, worked as a researcher at the University of Belgrade. He had earned his bachelor's degree and master's degree in engineering from the same university before gaining his PhD in Engineering Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Ejup Ganic was the president of Bosnia for less than 48 hours in May 1992, stepping in for Alija Izetbegovic who had been taken hostage by the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, at Sarajevo airport on returning from peace talks in Lisbon. Ganic negotiated the safe passage of the JNA troops that remained in Sarajevo. The army’s withdrawal was agreed with a JNA general, Milan Aksentijevic, in exchange for Izetbegovic’s release. But as the withdrawing JNA convoy swelled, one of the army transport vehicles came under attack from Bosnian forces seeking to free their president. Izetbegovic got back to the presidency building but dozens of JNA soldiers were killed in the meantime.

Serbian prosecutors believe Ganic ordered the attack on the convoy, and it is over this incident that Belgrade is seeking his extradition from London. Ganic has always maintained his innocence in the matter and insists he warned the UN, which supervised the deal, which Bosnian forces contained many volunteer groups, some of which were beyond his control.
In 2003, lawyers at the ICTY looked at the case drawn up by a Serbian military court and ruled there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in this matter with war crimes, or even that a war crime had been committed.

Ganic’s arrest is widely seen in Bosnia as a provocative move by Serbia, and as an attempt to equalize blame for the bloodshed in the war. Massive protests were held in front of the British Embassy in Sarajevo as well as in front of the Serbian Embassy. His arrest is set to worsen relations between BiH and Serbia.

Ironically Karadzic’s start of trial and Ganic’s arrest took place on the anniversary of Independence Day for BiH. On 1st March 1992, 64 percent of Bosnian citizens voted for independence in the referendum. Nevertheless, this day is only celebrated in the Croat-Muslim Federation and not acknowledged in the Republika Srpska. As for the future, it looks like that the 1st of March, 2010 will be remembered for marking the start of Karadzic’s trial and Ganic’s arrest and not for being the day BiH declared its independence.



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written by Dino, March 27, 2010 

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