No peace will endure for long without justice, for only justice can break the cycle of violence and retribution that fuels war and crimes against humanity...Only justice can assign responsibility to the guilty and allow everyone else to get on with the hard work of rebuilding and reconciliation.

- President Clinton, on the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 10/15/95


Urgent Need for NATO to Apprehend the Persons Indicted for War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia

Most of the persons indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia - including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic - enjoy not only freedom but power: they obstruct the return of refugees, suppress dissent, and use violence and intimidation to enforce their vision of ethnically "pure" states. All have taken refuge in areas controlled by military forces of their own ethnicity, which, in turn, refuse to arrest them. NATO knows where these men are and has the legal duty and the means to apprehend them, but Western political leaders refuse to order their arrest. Unless these men are apprehended, they will continue to undermine the peace process, prevent national reconciliation, and sabotage this rare opportunity to build an international system of justice. The international community has decided to end the NATO mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina in June 1998. Time is running out. To alert the public before it is too late, Human Rights Watch and other groups are launching a campaign under the banner "Arrest Now!"

We launch this campaign on the second anniversary of the July 11, 1995 fall of the so-called "safe area" of Srebrenica and the slaughter of thousands of its inhabitants. Srebrenica has become a symbol of the atrocities committed during the war in the former Yugoslavia and of the inaction of the international community. It is time for the international community, after having failed for far too long to stop the killing in Bosnia and Hercegovina, to ensure at least that the killers are brought to justice.


Of the 76 people publicly indicted so far by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, including 55 Serbs, 18 Croats and 3 Bosniaks, only ten have been taken into custody. Many of those at large continue to exert substantial economic and political power, and some are linked to active paramilitary organizations. Their continuing influence seriously jeopardizes the possibility of free and fair elections in September and the entire peace process.

Of the 10 taken into custody, two have already been judged. Drazen Erdemovic, a Bosnian Croat who confessed to participation in the massacres at Srebrenica while a soldier in the Bosnian Serb army, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Bosnian Serb Dusan Tadic was tried and found guilty on 11 charges of war crimes and other crimes against humanity committed in detention camps, and was acquitted on nine murder charges. Three Bosnian Muslims and one Croat are currently being tried for abuses against Bosnian Serbs at the Celebici camp in central Bosnia. One indicted person, Djordje Djukic, was released on humanitarian grounds and died soon after.

On June 27, 1997, Slavko Dokmanovic, a Serb whose indictment for the killing of Croats in Vukovar had been sealed, was arrested with U.N. assistance by ICTY authorities in U.N.-administered Eastern Slavonia. Ironically, this first arrest by international forces in the former Yugoslavia was made by Tribunal investigators backed by U.N. peacekeeping forces. Those commanding the far more robustly armed NATO troops that have led the Implementation Force (IFOR) and its successor Stabilization Force (SFOR) have refused to give the order to arrest the many other indicted war criminals who remain at large. Various excuses have been given for this inaction. What follows is a summary of these excuses and an explanation of why they should not prevail.


Arresting indicted war criminals is the responsibility of the region's governments, not international troops.


It is true that the 1995 Dayton peace accord requires the governments of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) to "cooperate" with the "investigation and prosecution of war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law" (Article IX). However, except for the Federation government in Sarajevo, that duty is not being fulfilled. Parallel to that is a separate obligation on the part of all members of the international community. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 827, they must comply "without undue delay" in the "arrest or detention of persons" indicted for war crimes and "the surrender or transfer of the accused to the International Tribunal." In addition, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 oblige all troop-contributing states "to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed" war crimes and to try them or hand them over to an appropriate court, such as the ICTY.

Of the 52 Serb defendants at large, at least four are in Serbia and the rest are in the Republika Srpska (the Serb-controlled entity in Bosnia and Hercegovina). Of the 14 Croat defendants at large, most are thought to be in parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina under the de facto control of Croatia. At least one indicted suspect, Dario Kordic, former chairman of the ruling Croatian party in Bosnia and Hercegovina, is believed often to be in Croatia proper.

Despite considerable financial pressure to cooperate in the surrender of indicted war criminals, The Federal Regpublic of Yugoslavia has not handed over a single suspect, and Croatia has cooperated in the surrender of only two low-level suspects from what had been 16 defendants in Croatian-controlled territory. While there is some reason to believe that tough and sustained financial pressure on Zagreb may yield further cooperation, Belgrade has indicated that it will never cooperate with the ICTY regardless of the financial pressure imposed. As a practical matter, if the international community were to abdicate all responsibility for arresting suspects to the regional governments, it would effectively be accepting that most suspects, and certainly the most important, will not be surrendered for trial.


Arresting the indicted war criminals will jeopardize the fragile peace in Bosnia.


In fact, it is the indicted but unarrested war criminals who today pose the greatest threat to a lasting peace. If peace is to endure beyond the planned withdrawal of NATO troops in June 1998, the indicted war criminals must be apprehended as a key step toward shutting down the machinery of violence and intimidation that they continue to operate.

Radovan Karadzic, former President of the Bosnian Serbs, and Ratko Mladic, former leader of the Bosnia Serb army, both accused of directing the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns during the war, still retain substantial control over the government, army and police of the Republika Srpska. Karadzic has consistently worked to undermine the Dayton accords and to obstruct the development of a central government for Bosnia and Hercegovina, and recently hosted a meeting of municipal leaders from across the Republika Srpska. Under the control of Karadzic and other indicted and non-indicted suspects, Republika Srpska authorities continue to block freedom of movement and freedom of expression and to engage in attacks on people because of their ethnicity or political affiliation. SFOR intelligence reports leaked to Human Rights Watch show that Karadzic and others have developed an underground paramilitary organization which operates in parts of Republika Srpska to prevent the return of refugees and displaced persons, to attack members of opposition parties, and to foment opposition to NATO troops and international agencies present in the Republika Srpska. The leader of a wartime paramilitary unit in Bijeljina, for instance, today runs the underground paramilitary's cell in that town and is reportedly financed by Karadzic.

Human Rights Watch has documented how indicted and as yet unindicted war crimes suspects continue to control virtually all sectors of society in certain areas of Bosnia and Hercegovina. In the town of Prijedor, for example, those responsible for the creation of the Omarska and other concentration camps and the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns that horrified the world in 1992 retain control of humanitarian and reconstruction aid, the police, the media, and even the local Red Cross. Karadzic retains significant control over financial resources within the Republika Srpska, including the lucrative, supposedly public, companies of Centrex and Selekt Impex, which control the market in alcohol and cigarettes. When President Biljana Plavsic sought an investigation of Karadzic's dealings, she was briefly arrested by the Minister of the Interior hand-picked by Karadzic. Investigations by Human Rights Watch have also revealed an organized strategy in the Republika Srpska-emanating from Radovan Karadzic-to obstruct the return of refugees and displaced persons, including by attacking returnees who try even to visit their homes, deploying the media to encourage such attacks, and involving the police in these attacks and the destruction of housing.

Knowledgeable international players have stressed that as long as the suspected war criminals maintain their influence, genuine peace is not possible. In November 1996, Robert Frowick, Sarajevo ambassador of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, stressed that the "whole peace process rests on this issue [apprehension]." Deputy High Representative Michael Steiner warned the international community, "I don't see that you can have an exit strategy for peacekeeping troops as long as they [indicted war criminals] remain free. There are some countries who want to avoid the issue. But they will pay the price later."


NATO is prepared to arrest any indicted war criminal that it "encounters," but these suspects are difficult to find.


Although, as noted, NATO has a broad and unqualified obligation to assist in the apprehension of war criminals, political leaders have so far given NATO troops instructions only to arrest suspects whom they "encounter." But even this limited mandate has proven farcical, as NATO troops go out of their way to avoid any such encounter, let alone to arrange "encounters" on terms that might be favorable for arrest. Well over half of those indicted have been located by journalists and human rights workers. A number are living openly in the same towns where they committed abuses. "War Criminal Watch" <> provides regular updates of their whereabouts.

Illustrative is the case of Radovan Karadzic, referred to by a U.N. spokesperson as "the most wanted man on the planet," who has slipped past international troops on numerous occasions. In early 1996, Karadzic passed through an estimated six IFOR checkpoints on his way to and from the town of Banja Luka where he appeared on a Bosnian Serb television program entitled "Ask the President," which was seen as a kickoff for an election campaign. No attempt was made to detain or apprehend him. In February 1996, NATO spokesman Navy Captain Mark van Dyke admitted to the Associated Press that Karadzic had been present at the Banja Luka City Hall at the same time as Carl Bildt and other international mediators. On June 20, 1996, American officers reportedly confirmed to a journalist that Radovan Karadzic was spotted in Brcko less than 100 meters from an American checkpoint. In October 1996, American professor Charles Ingrao saw Karadzic in a Bosnian Serb military jeep pull into a parking lot near Pale. He pointed out Karadzic, who was virtually alone, to a Swedish IFOR officer who replied that Karadzic traveled back and forth to Pale several times a day and stated that "it's not our mandate" to arrest him. American officials also told Ingrao that their orders were to steer clear of Karadzic. Karadzic was also spotted by U.N. police in a Bosnian Serb police-escorted motorcade near Pale in December 1996. Recently, Deputy High Representative Michael Steiner showed NATO commanders slides of Karadzic's route to work, which he takes every morning.

Other examples of NATO's missed opportunities to arrest suspects its troops have encountered are listed in an appendix to this document.


Arresting indicted war criminals is too dangerous, because it will invite retaliation against NATO troops and other international workers in Bosnia.


While it is widely conceded that NATO troops in Bosnia could overwhelm any resisting forces at the moment of an arrest, opponents of arrests by international troops articulate a fear that arrests may spark retaliation against NATO troops and other international workers, through sniping or kidnaping. Obviously, there is some risk that this would occur. But that risk is both containable and necessary to avoid greater risks to the peace process and to the prospects for a system of international justice.

First, NATO troops and other U.N. and OSCE workers have already developedand practiced emergency evacuation plans in which they can be quickly withdrawn to secure NATO bases in Bosnia. Workers with private NGOs can and should be made part of these plans.

Second, it is precisely to resist such blackmail that the lightly armed UNPROFOR peacekeeping troops were replaced by the well armed NATO forces. When NATO troops have credibly threatened force in the face of such blackmail, Bosnian Serb troops (the main source of threats) have quickly backed down. For example, in February 1996 Gen. Ratko Mladic ordered his troops to kidnap American soldiers and NATO troops in retaliation for the Bosnian government's arrest of two Bosnian Serb officers in Sarajevo. NATO troops tightened their security procedures and made clear to Mladic that any retaliatory action would be dealt with severely. Mladic backed down. Similarly, the U.N.'s arrest of Slavko Dokmanovic, the former Serbian mayor of Vukovar, has at least so far led only to bluster from Belgrade but no retaliatory action.

Third, the risk of retaliation can be reduced by making clear that arrests are part of an effort to uphold international law even-handedly and are not targeted against any one ethnic group. It would thus be important that suspects of all ethnic groups who remain at large - at this stage, Croats and Serbs - be apprehended.


NATO troops have no business arresting criminal suspects, which is essentially a police function.


In an ideal world, an international police force would be equipped to arrest those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today, however, the only force in Bosnia capable of making these arrests is NATO - either on its own or by providing essential back-up to a specially created commando unit. To pass apprehension off as a "police function" is to decide that no arrests will be made.

Moreover, this position reflects a disappointing lack of vision on the part of the Pentagon and other military commanders in not recognizing the importance of upholding international law against such atrocities. Since the Cold War's conclusion, the most common reason for deploying NATO troops has been to mitigate the humanitarian hardship caused by highly abusive forces. A functioning international system of justice is an essential tool for deterring such atrocities in the future without the need to risk the lives of international troops. Officials who contemplate mass murder are likely to think twice if they believe they may be brought to justice for their crimes. Indeed, given many tyrants' indifference to the welfare of even their own troops, the prosect of targeted prosecution and imprisonment may be a more effective deterrent than the threat of military intervention, the brunt of which is usually borne by the rank-and-file.


Arresting the war criminal suspects will upset Russia and jeopardize plans for NATO expansion.


One of the biggest obstacles so far to deploying NATO troops to arrest indicted war criminals - particular those associated with Serbia, Russia's ally in the Balkans - is fear that this would derail NATO expansion plans. However, with the first, key round of NATO expansion about to take place with Russia's acquiescence, that excuse is no longer valid. Moreover, Russia has supported the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and should not find enforcement of the Tribunal's arrest warrants objectionable if Serbs alone were not singled out for arrest.


Shh! We know arresting war criminal suspects is important, but we can't talk about it for fear of jeopardizing sensitive preparations to do just that.


Anyone who has talked with senior Western officials about arresting war criminals has heard this line. And, indeed, it appears that at least preliminary plans have been made to create a special commando unit that, with NATO backing, could carry out arrests. The problem is, as these same officials will usually admit when pressed, no authorization has been given to deploy any such unit. At this stage, the plea for silence appears to stem more from a desire to avoid discussion of NATO's embarrassing and indefensible inaction than from the legitimate need to avoid risking a sensitive military operation in the works. It has become clear that only extensive and critical discussion of NATO's abdication of its responsibilities in Bosnia will convince political leaders to overcome the various excuses for inaction outlined above.

Appendix: A List of Missed Opportunities to Arrest Indicted War Criminals

NATO peacekeepers admitted to spotting a man they believed to be indicted war crimes suspect Pero Skopljak in downtown Vitez, but after driving back to their base - where they confirmed from a poster that it was indeed Skopljak - they did not go back, "because that would have amounted to a manhunt."

An IFOR officer told Human Rights Watch that in July 1996 he had encountered Croatian Serb paramilitary leader Milan Martic (indicted for cluster bomb attacks on Zagreb, killing at least seven) at a press conference in the Kozarac area, and avoided getting caught on camera with Martic for fear of international criticism. Martic reportedly lives less than 100 meters from an IFOR center in Banja Luka.

Simo Zaric, accused of sending Muslims to concentration camps in 1992, boasted to an international NGO that he "passed IFOR checkpoints hundreds of times and never had any problems." He claimed U.S. soldiers even checked his ID card and waved him through.

Bosnian Serb commando Radovan Stankovic, indicted on charges of rape and running a rape brothel for his men, works and travels freely in Bosnia. He has passed regularly through checkpoints controlled by NATO troops. According to a November 1996 New York Times report, Stankovic once went into a U.N. police station to complain that Bosnian police had fired on his car - and complimented NATO soldiers on the job they were doing.

Gojko Jankovic, indicted for war crimes including rape in the town of Foca, was spotted by a London Sunday Times journalist at a cafe while French IFOR soldiers "leant against a nearby wall smoking cigarettes and paying no attention as Jankovic, accompanied by bodyguards, casually ordered a drink."

American military intelligence officers told U.S. News and World Report that Mladic was fairly easy to track because he travels with a radio in his vehicle. Two U.S. military sources also told the magazine that "for at least the first six months of the NATO mission, high-ranking IFOR officers were in regular contact with Mladic, making sure that he understood the requirements of military implementation of the Dayton peace agreement." In March 1996, a "tanned and relaxed" Gen. Ratko Mladic gave interviews on the ski slopes near Sarajevo, stating that he had no fear of being arrested. On May 21, 1996, Mladic crossed the international border to Belgrade, where he attended the public funeral of indicted officer Djordje Djukic, together with indicted Yugoslav army officer Veselin Sljivancanin. In April 1997, Mladic was seen attending a basketball match in Belgrade and in June attended his son's wedding there.

Four indicted persons were suspended from the Prijedor police department after the Boston Globe reported that the International Police Training Force (IPTF) headquarters had ignored reports of their presence by local IPTF representatives.

Dragan Gagovic, indicted for war crimes in Foca, works as a police trainer in Foca where he owns a bar. He told the British newspaper The Guardian that he drinks on a regular basis with U.N. police monitors.

Justice for those accused of war crimes and for the victims of war crimes is at the heart of American policy toward Bosnia.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, May 28, 1997

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