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South Slavic: February 1, 2001

1 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 4

Double Standards On War Crimes?

Omer Karabeg: In today's Most, we are going to discuss whether the international community has double standards concerning the prosecution of war criminals from the former Yugoslavia: more indulgent towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and more strict towards Croatia. Our guests are in Belgrade Dragoljub Micunovic, speaker of the Chamber of Citizens of Yugoslavia, and in Zagreb Zdravko Tomac, deputy speaker of the parliament of Croatia.

Many officials and politicians in Croatia think that the international community has been unfair towards Croatia in the matter of war criminals since, as they claim, much more strict criteria have been applied for Croatia than for Serbia. As I understand, that is also your opinion, Mr. Tomac. What is it based on?

Zdravko Tomac: Croatia and Yugoslavia have had two different attitudes towards the Hague tribunal. Croatia has agreed to cooperate with The Hague. Croatia has adopted a constitutional law [to that effect]. Croatia has been delivering the requested documents to The Hague. On the other hand, the present government of Yugoslavia, just like the former one, has a different attitude towards The Hague. I would call it disregard. Both new and old governments think that they do not have an obligation to The Hague and that [cooperating] is not the most important thing to do.

Under the circumstances, the Hague tribunal has been focused on Croatia most of the time, since this is where it can obtain documents and indicted war criminals. People from Slavonia -- and I am Slavonian, too -- have a saying that when a wagon is stuck in the mud, the driver flogs the horse that pulls, instead of the one that does not.

Dragoljub Micunovic: If we look at how many indictments were issued against Serbs and the rank of the indicted, then we will see that the Hague tribunal is far more strict with the Serbs. On the list of the issued indictments, there are former President of Yugoslavia and Serbia Slobodan Milosevic, Defense Minister Ojdanic, President of Serbia Milan Milutinovic, Deputy Prime Minister of the federal government Sainovic, three army generals, etc. One could say that the Hague tribunal intends to bring to justice the entire former leadership of Serbia.

Let us, then, see how many Serbs...have been indicted -- especially in Bosnia -- starting with Karadzic with whom the first big indictments started. This went on to Mladic and some other generals like Talic and Krstic, and to the latest indictment against Biljana Plavsic, who was president of the Republika Srpska.

However, those indicted were not extradited to The Hague because the former government did not want to do so. Therefore, the difference between the Serbian and the Croatian case is that the Hague tribunal has indicted more people from the top of the political and military establishment of Serbia -- or Yugoslavia -- while Croatia has extradited more of those indicted to the Hague tribunal.

From the very beginning, Croatia has been a member of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the United Nations, and Croatian governments -- the former and especially the present one -- have been cooperative with institutions of the international community, although Tudjman's government did hesitate a lot about that cooperation.

Make no mistake about it, I think that the new Yugoslav government wants to cooperate with the Hague tribunal and that it will cooperate in the best possible way. I also think that one should not doubt that the Hague tribunal will be equally strict towards everyone.

Zdravko Tomac: I would say that the new political forces in Croatia fully agree that -- primarily for its own sake and not only because of the Hague tribunal's requests -- Croatia must face the fact that crimes were committed by the Croatian side as well, and that some individuals and groups did evil things to some of the ethnic Serbs in the war that took place on Croatian territory. This is why we do not hesitate about cooperation in all cases where The Hague demands that those responsible for these crimes be held responsible.

The problem is something else. Since almost the entire leadership of Yugoslavia -- or Serbia -- has been indicted for war crimes, there is a tendency now to equalize the guilt. This means holding the military leadership of the [1995 Croatian] actions "Oluja" (storm) and "Bljesak" (flash) responsible for what happened in the war, as well as the political leadership of Croatia. It means that...the Croatian side -- just like Milosevic -- carried out a policy of ethnic cleansing and war crimes, and that Croatia's recent past is tainted by such crimes. This is what cannot be accepted in Croatia.

Our starting point is that there are two sorts of crimes. There is this primary, big crime committed by the government of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav army aimed at creating a "Greater Serbia." That crime set off this bloodshed. [On a different level,] there are also crimes committed in that war by Serbs, Croats, and Bosniacs. One must draw a distinction between the two sorts of crimes. This is why we are strongly opposed to any effort to strike a balance and indict the military and political leadership of Croatia, just because the leadership of Serbia and Yugoslavia has already been indicted...

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Micunovic, do you agree that the Hague tribunal is trying to strike a balance of guilt?

Dragoljub Micunovic: I do not think so. First, I do not intend to compete for the honor of being less guilty. I think that guilt must always be individual, that one must establish who made which decision and who committed what crime. My opinion is that in these matters one must go all the way, that light must be shed on everyone's role and on everyone's responsibility. Crimes must be disclosed and those responsible must be punished by an appropriate court, either a national or international one. That is the only sound approach.

Zdravko Tomac: I agree, but we have to bear in mind that Mr. Milosevic and his team organized the war as a crime in itself. Their aim was the ethnic cleansing of Croatia, the Posavina region, and the region of eastern Bosnia in order to make Greater Serbia, by means of crime... It is a welcome development that the new leadership in Serbia intends to try Milosevic for what he did to the Serbs, but he will have to face up to the very concept of the war and the concept of the creation of Greater Serbia, which was carried out in a way that included ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Dragoljub Micunovic: If we continue this way, I think that we risk becoming too interested in ideas and plans, so that we could overlook what was happening on the ground. However, we have to bear in mind another thing. In Serbia, there are between 800,000 and 900,000 refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. It is true that Milosevic had a plan for ethnic cleansing, but he carried it out in such a way that he has ethnically cleansed his own people. On the other hand, in spite of all these plans, Serbia is today the most multi-ethnic state in the Balkans. Therefore, no matter how much Milosevic wanted that ethnic cleansing -- if he wanted it -- it was not carried out in Serbia.

You know, there are some people here who think that an ethnic cleansing of Serbs was carried out in Kosovo, Croatia, and in Bosnia. That is another part of the story, which I would rather not discuss right now, but my attitude about that was clear from the very beginning. I had to face attacks from all the sides, since I was openly opposed to the war and the bombing of Croatian towns...

At the beginning [of the 1990-1991 conflict], the international community wanted to prevent the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Milosevic and the Yugoslav army would have had much support for that, if they had been able to do it without committing too many crimes.

[The international community] pursued a wrong policy for a long time. Nothing changed when Croatia was attacked, nor when the crimes took place in Vukovar, although everything was clear [about Milosevic's brutality] after Vukovar. It was clear that wounded people were killed in the most horrible way, that some 1,500 people were missing, that people were taken into camps, and that the town was destroyed. That was a typical genocide against a civilian population. But, for a long time, the international community did not want to see it. This is why I think that the international community does not [really] want Milosevic to become a witness, or to be tried.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Tomac, are you against Milosevic's trial in Belgrade?

Zdravko Tomac: Absolutely. If the Hague tribunal makes sense, if the intention of the trial is to individualize the guilt and to remove the collective responsibility from a people, then the leaders of the policy of creation of Greater Serbia -- which, I think, was anti-Serb as well, since the Serbs have paid such a high price -- must be tried in The Hague. There is no reason for a man like [Croatian General Tihomir] Blaskic to be sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for not preventing some crimes in central Bosnia, if the man who provoked the storm is not tried in The Hague. There will be no reason for the Hague tribunal to exist in that case.

Dragoljub Micunovic: It is true that the international community sometimes used to let off Milosevic lightly and [in effect] supported him. They supported him -- like for instance when Milosevic, under pressure from the international community, severed his relationship with Karadzic and sealed the frontier on the River Drina. But after that, Milosevic was severely attacked and eventually indicted.

The same thing happened [in reverse] to Tudjman. The international community at first criticized Tudjman but eventually helped him to carry out "Bljesak" and "Oluja." Therefore, the international community has its own way of doing things...[and] always reacts the way that suits its interests without regard to moral concerns...

It does not matter that much where the trial takes place, but rather what would be achieved by it. We want to hand over all the documents requested by the international court. Mrs. Del Ponte...can investigate whatever she wants. We want to do it together with her.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Micunovic, do you think that Milosevic might have a fair trial in Belgrade for the crimes committed against other peoples? For example, Milosevic was accused of genocide in Kosovo. Most of the people in Serbia do not think that what the Serbian army did in Kosovo was genocide.

Dragoljub Micunovic: They think so because they are not informed. This is exactly why we want public trials for all of those indicted. There would be international observers there. There would be live TV coverage. The whole thing would be under the scrutiny of the international public, and no one should fear that someone could try to sweep something under the carpet or to turn it into a farce.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Tomac, do you think that Milosevic could have a fair trial in Belgrade for the crimes committed against other nations?

Zdravko Tomac: No, I do no think so. If something like that took place, it would be a precedent. At that very moment, the Hague tribunal should be closed and everybody else should be tried in his or her country...

It cannot be allowed that those indicted for far less serious crimes go to The Hague while the man who started all the wars that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia be tried for election frauds, for being a petty criminal, for illegal money transfers abroad -- for what he did to the Serbs.

He must be tried for what he did to some 200,000 dead Bosniacs -- half of them civilians -- not to mention his other crimes. The international community must face up to these things. The Hague tribunal is a tribunal of the United Nations. The Security Council has authority over that tribunal, and this is where the decision will have to be made about the future.

Dragoljub Micunovic: Mr. Tomac is talking disparagingly about Milosevic's responsibility for financial manipulations, for his attempt at provoking a civil war, for election fraud, for murders that took place here in Serbia. Those are very serious crimes, and the people here are very concerned about them.

I understand other peoples' sensibility for the crimes that were committed against them, and that it is the only thing that matters to them. But it does matter to the citizens of Serbia what was done to them. Some half a million young people left Yugoslavia to avoid being sent to the war, while the lives of those who remained here are ruined because it all lasted 10 years. They want these things to be discussed publicly...

Omer Karabeg: Croatian lawyer Branko Seric claims that if the Hague tribunal allowed Milosevic to be tried in Belgrade, then Croatia would not have any obligation in the future to extradite indited war criminals to that tribunal. Do you share that opinion, Mr. Tomac?

Zdravko Tomac: I find that realistic. No Croatian government that would extradite indicted Croats to the Hague tribunal could politically survive such a decision if Milosevic was tried in Belgrade. The war took place in Croatia, Croatia was attacked, and now the one who attacked us should be tried in Belgrade while Croats are supposed to go to The Hague. There is no citizen of Croatia who could accept that.

Dragoljub Micunovic: I think that there were several persons involved in starting the war. Of course, I am the last person in the world to defend Milosevic, but I think that it would be wrong to say that Milosevic is the demon who planned it all and was the only one who started the bloodshed. The story is much more complicated.

As far as I am concerned, the most important thing to me is that the criminals are sentenced, that justice is done, since there is a crying need for justice. I would not be against it if all the Croatian war criminals were tried in Zagreb, as long as those who committed the atrocities are punished. For me, that is far more important than where the trial takes place.