Two former chiefs of the Serbian state security service have been sentenced to 12 years by a UN court in The Hague on charges of running paramilitary death squads in the 1990s Yugoslav wars.
The sentences for Jovica Stanisic, 70, the former head of Serbia's state security service, and his deputy, Franko Simatovic, 71, came on June 30 after they were convicted of aiding and abetting the crimes of murder, deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution committed by Serb forces following the takeover of the town of Bosanski Samac in April 1992, the court, hearing its final case from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, said in a news release.
The court found that the two men provided “practical assistance, which had a substantial effect on the commission of the crimes, by training and deploying members of a special unit of the Serbian state security service and local Serbs from Bosanski Samac to participate in the takeover of the municipality,” the court said.
The court said, however, that there was insufficient evidence to convict them of other crimes in other towns and villages in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia during the wars that resulted in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The 12-year sentences, which can be appealed, include credit for the time they have spent in custody. They had faced up to life in prison.
The paramilitary groups they ran included an elite unit dubbed the Red Berets and Arkan's Tigers, the outfit run by Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, a football hooligan turned paramilitary leader. Both units allegedly killed hundreds of people.
Stanisic and Simatovic initially were acquitted by the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2013. But following protests and an appeal by prosecutors, judges in 2015 ordered a retrial on the grounds that the initial trial had made errors of law.
The retrial started in 2017, with final arguments taking place at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals -- the successor to both the ICTY, which was dissolved in 2017, and an equivalent court dealing with the Rwanda genocide.
The indictment against them said Stanisic and Simatovic "organized, supplied, financed, supported, and directed" the Serb paramilitary groups that murdered Croats, Muslims, and other non-Serbs to force them out of large areas, seeking to establish a Serb-run state.
The indictment included at least 280 killings in some two dozen specific attacks on towns and villages by the Red Berets and the Tigers.
Munira Subasic, president of one of the associations that campaigns for justice for victims of the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, told AFP that the judgment "will do justice to the victims of Bosnia."
"The victims are never satisfied, but it's important that they have been found guilty, even if it is just for the crimes committed at Bosanski Samac," she told local television.
Stanisic and Simatovic handed themselves in to the UN detention center in The Hague last week after being free on bail, a court spokesperson said.
The two were close associates of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who involved Serbia in wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during his heavy-handed 12-year rule.
Milosevic was also tried by the tribunal but died before the verdict was handed down in 2006.
Tigers chief Arkan was indicted by The Hague court but was shot dead in Belgrade in 2000.
The case was one of the last from the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart after the fall of communism, leaving some 130,000 people dead and millions displaced.