Is Belgrade really looking for Mladic?

My colleagues at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade are having a hard time getting their statement on the occasion of the visit of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia published in Belgrade (for more background on the cases mentioned here, see here). So here it is, for those who want it (please contact them, not me, for more information):

Trajaka Stamenkovića2, 11 000 Beograd, tel: 412 5708, e-mail: office@ceas.org.rs,   www.ceas.org.rs

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT ON OCCASION OF VISIT OF ICTY’S CHIEF PROSECUTOR, MR. SERGE BRAMMERTZ

CEAS believes that the statements made by the top government and politicians given to Serbian media after their meetings with Mr. Brammertz, claiming that Serbia is doing its best to locate and arrest the Hague fugitives, Mladić and Hadžić, are incongruent with the facts.

CEAS reminds that Miodrag Ivanović, father of the soldier Srđan Ivanović, has repeatedly declared in public, most recently in the program “Reaction” on TV station B92, that in the months before his death in the summer of 2005, his son used to drive general Mladen Ćirković, the then commander of Pristina Corps, and the Hague indictee Ratko Mladić.This statements have never been denied by the Army or MOD. Nevertheless, Ivanovic was never heard as a witness.

The Serbian Army has recently retired Mladen Ćirković from the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Military,  failing to rally their strength or to show good will to examine at least his professional responsibility, if not the criminal one, for the violent deaths of three soldiers on regular military service in the barracks of Leskovac, in the period 2004-2005 (the case of Leskovac soldiers: Ivanović, Kostić, Žarković),  while he was the commander of Pristina Corps, directly in charge of the matter.

CEAS reminds the public that the Minister of Defense, Dragan Šutanovac, recognized the existence of the Leskovac case last winter, for the first time, during a debate in the Assembly when he replied to the a DSS representative with the following words: “Would you like me to remind you about the affairs in the Serbian Military at the time when you governed Serbia? Would you like me to tell you about Leskovac? About Vranje? About   Topčider, Mr. Tomić?“  Unfortunately, this confession, which appears accidental and extorted in the absence of other arguments, rather than a desire to finally clarify these cases, went by without an adequate reaction of the public or competent authorities and, first of all, without any supplementary explanations by the Minister Šutanovac.

CEAS has recently, pursuant to the Law on Free Access to Information, received replies from competent judicial authorities related to the cases of Leskovac and Topčider. They confirm a series procedural faults and actions which are uncustomary in judicial practice.

In the Ivanović case, the prosecution of jurisdiction in Leskovac, therefore a state authority, has submitted argumented proposals for implementation of additional investigative actions for four times. All the four proposals were rejected by the competent court chamber and the judge Mihajlo Petrović, who was reelected during the reform of judicial system. CEAS finds that the most important check which should have been made during the investigation was the exhumation of the late Srđan Ivanović’s body. Given the incomplete details from the forensic records, there is no other way to ascertain the way in which heroin was injected in the late Ivanović’s body, whether he took it on his own or after employment of force, and whether he had consumed drugs before. It is also a big failure that there was no hearing of the sergeant Dragan Đorđević, the last person seen with the late Ivanović, later on convicted for the criminal act of narcotics distribution.

Likewise, in the other two cases of Leskovac, a series of drastic procedural faults has been confirmed, violating the injured party’s right to trial in a fair and reasonable time period.

CEAS informs the public that the Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade has been keeping the Topčider case since 1 January 2010, failing to initiate proceedings for more than a year. This is intolerable, since it has been indisputably confirmed by investigative actions that the soldiers in Topčider were killed by a third person. CEAS believes that the case needs a series of investigative actions, which have not been taken so far and would lead to a reliable assessment whether someone was hiding in the facility in front of which the guardsmen were killed. We believe the members of the National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY should be relieved of the obligation to keep the state secret, in order to assess whether they have any knowledge about the movements of Ratko Mladić at the time. This could be achieved only by actions of investigative judge after all the authorized persons who deal with detecting of Ratko Mladić’s residence are relieved from the obligation to keep the state secret.

CEAS finds it particularly important that the former Minister of Justice, Zoran Stojković, at some point stopped the investigation against several generals of the Serbian Military for hiding of Mladić, and the investigation against general Tomić has been recently reopened. CEAS welcomes the fact that the Prosecutor’s Office for War Crimes is now competent for processing of Ratko Mladić’s harbourers.

CEAS remarks that the Government of Serbia and the Ministry of Defense have finally managed to appoint the general inspector who shall be in charge of controlling the information and secret services’ operations. CEAS invites the new inspector Božidar Banović, Miodrag Rakić, President Tadić’s Chief of Staff and coordinator of secret services’ operations, and the Assembly Committee for Defense and Security, to examine possible influences of the services on the cases of Leskovac and Topčider, mindful of all the proved judicial faults and the inability or lack of political will in the Ministry of Defense and Serbian Military to identify the faults and punish those in charge of the violent deaths of soldiers, now obviously related to hiding of Ratko Mladić.

CEAS invites all national and international protagonists who evaluate the successfulness of reforms in judicial system so far and who shall monitor the future steps in the process, to pay attention to these cases as they may be referent for identification of the degree of judiciary independence in Serbia.

CEAS finds it impossible to discuss successfulness of reforming processes in Serbian Military, defense and security systems, and particularly establishment of democratic control over the army and services, until these cases are completely resolved and Mladić and Hadžić arrested.

If the western international community is really determined to arrest Mladić and Hadžić, it must demand from Serbian government, if the latter do not show interest on their own initiative, to provide answers about all the circumstances in the Leskovac and  Topčider cases.

Belgrade, 23 February 2011

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