Serbia´s treatment of convicted war criminals is an affront to the victims

Slobodan Medic in Trnovo July 1995
Slobodan Medic in Trnovo July 1995

On Tuesday 31th of December 2013 Slobodan Medic  his wife and their son were killed in a car crash near the town of Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia. Medic was once one of the  commanders of the notorious paramilitary  unit Scorpions. Working under the patronage of Serbian State Security, the unit was widely used during the fighting and the subsequent pogroms of non-Serbs in Croatia Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the wars in the those countries. Since 1991 they had played a key role, especially in eastern Slavonia, which was Serb-held for much of the war in Croatia. Sponsored by and working for Serbian State Security the unit was stationed in Sid, 80km north-west of Belgrade, which during the Croatian war became the starting point for the Serbian attack on eastern Croatia. They were also used by Milosevic´s regime to make sure that the local Serb authority did as they were told, as reward for their efforts the regime in Belgrade looked the other way as Scorpions and other groups indulged in smuggling and looting.

However the unit is mostly known for their involvement in the murder of six Bosniak men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica and the subsequent genocide that took place there in July 1995. The murdered men: Safet Fejzic (1978), Azmir Alispahic (1978), Sidik Salkic (1959), Smajl Ibrahimovic (1960), Dino Salihovic (1979) and Juso Delic (1970)

In 2005 during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic the prosecution submitted into evidence a video tape filmed by a member of the  Scorpions, The 20-minute video showed several members of the Scorpions under the leadership of Slobodan Medic ordering six  Bosniak prisoners, dressed in civilian clothes, from the back of a lorry. The victims  were taken by lorry from Srebrenica to the village of Trnovo, 30min drive from Sarajevo then  marched into nearby forest and shot one by one. Days after the footage was shown at The Hague during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Medic was arrested. In 2007 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his participation in the murders.

At the time of the car accident, Medic was still serving a twenty year sentence for war crimes, at a correctional facility in Sremska Mitrovica. According to Serbian media, Medic was on provisional release, which he was granted for the holidays due to good behavior. Once the news was out about Medic´s death people started asking questions about what he was doing out of prison in the first place. Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) once headed  by one of Serbia’s leading human rights campaigners, Natasa Kandic. The same women responsible for tracking down and delivering the tape to both the Serbian war crimes prosecutor as well as the prosecution team at The Hague, pointed out  in their statement that by giving privileges to convicted war criminals such as Medic, those responsible were in fact trivializing the crimes committed and the suffering of the victims.

Humanitarian Law Center also pointed out that; among the countries of the former Yugoslavia who are faced with the legacy of war crimes, Serbia is the only country where war criminals at an early stage of serving prison sentences, receive privileges such as the right to an annual leave outside the prison, leave out to town, etc, as well as the right to celebrate annual holidays outside correctional facilities. HLC also pointed out in their statement that the legal regulations of the Republic of Serbia which determine the treatment of those convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity do not correspond with the severity of these crimes, so that treatment of someone convicted of war crimes is determined on the basis of the same criteria as for example someone who is convicted for construction without a building permit. According to HLC given the current praxis of giving privileges to those convicted of war crimes and other serious criminal offenses Serbian institutions were trivializing war crime trials and cruelly betraying the victims’ right to justice. HLC demanded that the  responsible authorities made the rules for granting convicted war criminals privileges more strict.

Serbian author Bojan Toncic was more direct in his criticism of the current treatment of convicted war criminals in Serbia. In a column for the Serbian portal E-Novine right after the accident that killed Medic  his son and wife, Toncic stated the following:

After the accident in which the main villain lost his life “while on leave” one has to ask the question; How good does a monster´s behavior have to be, in order to as someone sentenced to the harshest penalty in the land ( The sentence of twenty years was at the time of the crime a substitute for death by firing squad ) in order for him to receive free weekends and go to New Year’s celebration and one has to wonder what kind of treatment do prisoners that have been convicted of lesser crimes receive? Judging from the circumstances, what we are dealing here is a kind of unauthorized, but above all insensitive despising of “justice” after the fact (fact being a twenty year sentence) by the warden of the correctional facility. A kind of optional sentence in anticipation of the conditions for early release. In other words, this is a scandal that requires the reaction of the Directorate for Execution of Criminal Sanctions and the Minister of Justice.

However there is no point in acting too astonished by the treatment of Slobodan Medic. A man that personifies (He´s not alone) Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The treatment of a commander of a formation stained by war crimes in Kosovo is not that surprising at all given the fact that we live in a country that for years, regardless of who is in charge has pampered to and tried to improve the image of war criminals, all in the name of “the people” and an innocence in which nobody really believes in. That is the kind of punishment that is preferred for Serbs- those indicted by ICTY and those already convicted if one is to believe the current president Tomislav Nikolic and prime minister Ivica Dacic.

Scorpions were formed under the auspices of the Serbia´s Ministry of the Interior (MUP)  one of those who participated in the creation of the unit was Radovan Stojicic Badza, a police general who rose to prominence during Milosevic´s regime together with Franko Simatovic and Jovica Stanisic. The first commander of the unit was Milan Milovanovic Mrgud, at that time one of the highest ranking officers of the Serbian MUP.

Toncic also pointed to fact that during the trial of Petar Petrasevic, one of the other killers from Trnovo,  Petrasevic had expressed remorse for the murders and admitted his own guilt. “I killed six Muslims, before god I am most certainly guilty. I was following orders” to the mothers of dead who were following the trial, Petrasevic said; “Mothers I will tell you this historic sentence, we killed them because they were Muslims and for that it´s probably better if I was left lying on that same grass as them”

Just before the murders, one of the killers hit one of the Bosniaks in the head, cursing at him and insulting him, “What are you shaking for you motherfucker” as well as; “look at this one, he shit his pants” After that Scorpions executed three of the prisoners, while the cameraman looked for the spare battery. The last two were killed after they were forced to carry the corpses of those that had been executed before them. In the footage you can hear, one of the killers ask “if anyone wants to shoot” and to be careful and not shoot at the wall. As well as, “wait, wait I want to get this on film” “Wait I have three bullets left”, “This one is still breathing, for fuck´s sake” One the tape, you can also hear Aleksandar Medic, brother of Slobodan Medic talk to one of the prisoners, asking the prisoner, an underage boy if he had ever had sex, and then saying; “and you never will.”

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