UN war crimes court to pass judgment in retrial of 2 Serbs

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A United Nations court is delivering judgments Wednesday in the retrial of two allies of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic who are accused of organizing, arming and supporting notorious Serb paramilitaries that committed atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia as Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 1990s.

Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were originally acquitted in 2013 by judges who said prosecutors had failed to prove important elements of their links to the crimes. Appeals judges quashed the not-guilty verdicts in 2015 and ordered the retrial that took place at the U.N. International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

The verdicts Wednesday, which can be appealed, are the final U.N. prosecution for crimes committed during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

Earlier this month, appeals judges at the same court confirmed former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic’s convictions for his role in atrocities throughout the Bosnian war, and upheld his life sentence.

Iva Vukusic, a historian at Utrecht University, said the prosecution of Stanisic and Simatovic, who were originally sent to The Hague to face trial in 2003, has taken too long.

“I think this case is really showing us that if international justice wants to be a viable solution, this is not the way to run it,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s been too long in the making.”

Even so, it offers an opportunity to pass the first judgment at an international court on Serbia’s role in the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Milosevic was charged in a broader indictment with fomenting crimes in the Balkan wars but he died in his cell in The Hague before judges could deliver verdicts.

Vukusic said that in the history of the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague there has been no conviction of any Serbian official for crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.

“That, many scholars would agree, is really unusual and doesn’t reflect the realities of the conflict,” she said. “It almost seems as if, judging by the legal conclusions, that Serbia had nothing to do with the war in Croatia and Bosnia and that it was all the local Serbs. While in fact the local Serbs wouldn’t be able to fight a war for a week had it not been for Serbian support.”