War criminals in SDS council
A report released by an international community watchdog organization late this week made waves in Bosnia-Hercegovina with evidence that war crimes suspects affiliated with a powerful Bosnian Serb political party are not only at large, but also remain in powerful positions in the Serb-held part of BiH.
Thursday's International Crisis Group (ICG) report, titled, "War Criminals in Bosnia's Republika Srpska: Who are the people in your neighborhood?", stated that 75 individuals in the Republika Srpska and in the Brčko District who may be guilty of war crimes during the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war are still respected Serb Democratic Party (SDS) council members, police officers and soldiers in 18 RS municipalities.
The privately funded multinational organization's report named names of those accused of war crimes against non-Serb civilians ranging from organizing concentration camps to mass rape to executions to robbery to expulsion.
The report also stated what those people are doing five years after the war ended—most of them either enjoy powerful SDS positions and/or an empire created from the wealth of those they robbed. Needless to say, they far from the bother of being arrested by NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR) in BiH.
Because these suspects remain both leaders in their communities and in the SDS, the report says it's naive to hope for reconciliation in BiH as long as it is general knowledge that known war criminals run the Republika Srpska. And ethnic reconciliation is the bare minimum of what is needed in this country, said the report.
Seriousoly undermining Bosnia's chances
"The continued presence in the municipalities of the Republika Srpska of individuals suspected of war crimes—some indicted either publicly or secretly by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)—represents a significant obstacle to the return of ethnic minority refugees," the report said.
"It also undermines seriously Bosnia's chances for building central institutions, generating self-sustainable economic growth and achieving the political transformation necessary to begin the process of integration with the rest of Europe."
The 90-page report also revealed that the international community in BiH is aware the situation on the ground. The SDS, after all, was founded in 1990 by Radovan Karadžić, who currently has a USD five million price on his head for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war.
The report said the international community knows that Karadžić continues to influence the party, but that it is much easier for them to play along than to confront the SDS. The ICG also said that some SDS officials who have been indicted for war crimes meet regularly with members of Bosnia's international community.
"The influence of potential war criminals at the municipal and entity level is an open secret among international officials. The issue is often avoided, since it exposes contradictions between the international community's commitment to justice and the rule of law on the one hand, and the temptations of political expediency on the other.
"And yet the persistence of radical politics in the eastern RS follows logically from the fact that the international community permitted the SDS of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić to participate in the post-Dayton 'democratic' elections. As one mayor in the RS noted, 'the SDS as a party protects war criminals because to do otherwise would call its entire concept into question.' (June 2000 interview with an RS mayor who wished to remain anonymous.)
"More significantly, the failure to arrest Karadžić himself has sent a message to his wartime colleagues and political successors that they can obstruct return, actively work against Dayton implementation, exploit nationalist sentiments, and remain untouchable."
ICG recommend SDS ban
The ICG called on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which supervises elections in BiH, and the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which supervises the implementation of the civilian aspect of the Dayton Accords, to ban the Serb Democratic Party from BiH elections, including the 11 November general elections.
These organizations banned the Serb Radical Party in April 2000, because its leadership included former Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplašen (removed in March 1999 for obstructing Dayton).
The ICG said there is enough evidence to also ban the SDS, because of Karadžić's involvement in the party, which has "openly and unabashedly obstructed ALL aspects of Dayton implementation." The ICG also cited the number of current SDS politicians who are war crimes suspects and the party's wartime activities as "ample" reasons to ban the party's further activities in BiH.
"The SDS record of anti-Dayton behavior over the past five years has been lamentable," the ICG said. "And the international community's tolerance of it should by now be exhausted."
The report had harsh recommendations for all the key actors in BiH-NATO, the Bosnian government, the OSCE, the OHR and the UN, basically telling them to live up to their Dayton commitments or forget a lasting peace in the country.
The report was not ignored by the local press. The day after it was released, Sarajevo daily Oslobođenje asked SFOR spokesperson Susan Gray if SFOR had a responsibility to arrest these 75 war criminals. She said, "Yes, if we come across them while we're actively working."
Oslobođenje also included some of the report's recommendations and information that it wasn't only blaming Bosnian Serbs for what happened during the war. Its reporter wrote, "With this announcement, the ICG calls on the international community to submit more funds to The Hague Tribunal to make their work easier. It also asserts in this report that it doesn't mean that crimes occurred only in the Republika Srpska or that only Serbs committed crimes, thus exonerating Bosniaks or Croats. No, it remarks that the difference is that Serbs, up to this moment, have not arrested one war criminal in Republika Srpska."
Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz, which has the highest circulation in the Federation, did not just rehash the report's conclusion. It took up half an article listing most of the report's 75 SDS suspects, including what they were suspected of and where they are believed to be.
The party's status came into question even before the ICG report affected presstime. On Thursday, Avaz reported that High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch and US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke had disagreed on that very question.
Holbrooke had told Banja Luka's Nezavisne Novine last week that the party should be banned, because it was a "criminal organization." In the same interview, he said he had tried to convince Petritsch of this "on more than one occasion" but that both Petritsch and the OSCE had refused to ban the party. OHR spokesperson Oleg Milišić told Avaz that it was healthy for diplomats to disagree.
"No one in the international community is so arrogant to say that they know every answer to every question," he said, adding that Petritsch has conversations with other international representatives and local leaders on a daily basis.
OSCE spokesperson Luke Zahner said the organisation thinks it's a very serious step to ban a political party. "You have to have a good reason and really notorious violations of the rules and regulations, like what we saw in the example of the Serb Radical Party, which we dismissed."
SDS main board member Mirko Banjac told Avaz he did not see a reason why the SDS would be banned and said the statement was astonishing to him, because there wasn't even one argument to back it up.
Croats set a date
The self-styled Croat National Assembly, made up of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and seven smaller parties (minus the New Croat Initiative and the Croat Peasants' Party) decided in Novi Travnik on 28 October to hold their all-Croat referendum on 11 November, the same day as the BiH general elections.
They also made a declaration of Croats' rights but did not go so far as to explicitly violate the Dayton Peace Accords. For example, they did not call for separate Croat legislative or judiciary institutions. BiH Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljić said the establishment of this assembly, the first here "since the time of the kings," was a great event for the Croat people.
The OSCE, however, has warned that the referendum would fall under the category of political activity, which is prohibitied on election day. Spokesperson Luke Zahner said that if the organisation decides that the HDZ intentionally violated elections rules, then appropriate actions will be taken. Croatian President Stipe Mesić still maintains that BiH Croats need to work through institutions in their own country if they want to make changes.
And in other news...
- Republika Srpska healthcare workers went on strike Wednesday, demanding their several-months-late salaries and gas to heat hospitals. Entity Health Minister Željko Rodić told BH Press there was no reason for a strike in that sector, because salaries have never been more up-to-date. "Healthcare workers should look at the situation of pensioners," he said. "They have not received pensions for six months, but they are not on strike." RS railroad workers are also striking because of late salaries.
Beth Kampschror, 3 November 2000
- Archive of Bosnian news reviews
- Browse through the CER eBookstore
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page