|"Jovica Stanisic, left, and Franko Simatovic, right, await judgment at the tribunal." (Martijn Beekman/AP)|
By Ian Traynor
The Guardian, May 30, 2013
|Two Serbian state security chiefs who facilitated the use of paramilitary murder squads in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s have been acquitted of all charges of war crimes in what is certain to be seen as a debacle for the prosecution at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Jovica Stanisic, one of the closest aides and state security chief of Slobodan Milosevic, and the late Serbian leader's sidekick and field officer, Franko Simatovic, walked free on Thursday after 10 years in detention and five years on trial. The judges found that the pair, widely seen as two of Milosevic's key henchmen in the wars of the 1990s, created, organised, directed, and funded special forces teams and paramilitary formations in Serbia whose function was to terrorise non-Serbs out of parts of Croatia and Bosnia. While declaring that the units were responsible for war crimes and mass murder, the judges ruled that the two accused could not be held responsible for any of the crimes. Apart from the continuing trials of the two Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who are both facing genocide charges, the case that concluded on Thursday was viewed as the most important in attempting to prove how Belgrade directed the vicious 1991-95 Serbian campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia. The judges found that the men 'directed and organised the formation of the [special forces] unit, organised its involvement in a number of operations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and directed and organised its financing, logistical support, and other substantial assistance or support.' The special forces were found to have perpetrated acts of 'murder, deportation, and forcible transfer' in Bosnia in 1992. While the judges found that Stanisic and Simatovic 'organised the involvement' in the crimes, they said there was no proof the accused 'personally directed the operations' or 'issued orders or instructions.'
The prosecution argued that the two men were key figures in the Milosevic entourage and in a campaign of terror and violence aimed at seizing control of large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and expelling most non-Serbs. The judges found inadequate evidence to incriminate and said they may have rather been intent on keeping control of 'Serb-held' territory in the two neighbouring states."
[n.b. On the face of it, a bizarre decision, and indeed a "debacle" for the ICTY. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]