Untruthful and inaccurate reporting about the ICTY’s work has been a central
factor in the prevailing negative attitude of the Serbian public toward the
Hague tribunal. On a daily basis, reporters and analysts in Serbia who
strongly dislike the Tribunal present flagrant untruths about factual and
legal aspects of its work. The work of these authors regularly appears in the
most prominent media in Serbia. There is no doubt that they have a decisive
impact on public opinion.
Recent television appearances by Zeljko Vukovic, Ljiljana Smajlovic and Kosta Cavoski provide a good illustration of this tendency. Negative statements from the three commentators about the work of the ICTY regularly appear in the mainstream media. Zeljko Vukovic is a commentator at Vecernje Novosti, the daily newspaper with the highest circulation in Serbia; Ljiljana Smajlovic is a journalist in NIN and a regular guest on television programs about the Hague tribunal; Kosta Cavoski is a professor of law at Belgrade University and the author of several books and numerous newspaper articles on the Hague tribunal.
On the April 20, 2004, edition of B92 Television’s "Impression of the Week," Zeljko Vukovic asked: "A propos the writing of the history, what kind of history will be written in The Hague, if nobody is sitting there charged with crimes against Serbs?" Any viewer hearing those words would naturally conclude that the Hague tribunal is utterly unjust, because it only tries crimes committed against non-Serbs.
In reality, sixteen individuals have been indicted so far by the ICTY for crimes against the Serbs. Hazim Deliæ, Esad Landzo, and Zdravko Mucic were convicted in 1998, and Zejnil Delalic was acquitted. Janko Bobetko and Mehmed Alagic, also indicted for crimes against Serbs, died in 2003. Trials are ongoing against Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura. Trials await Rahim Ademi, Naser Oric, Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Balja, Isak Musliju, Ivan Cermak, and Mladen Markac, all of whom are in custody. Ante Gotovina remains at large.
When one of the participants in the television program reminded Vukovic of some of these names, he persisted in his criticism: "But there are no indictees on the basis of command responsibility.” In fact, with the exception of Landzo and Balja, all the above mentioned have been indicted on the basis of command responsibility.
In the Television Belgrade program "Open Studio,” on April 27, 2004, Ljiljana Smajlovic, was discussing the ICTY’s conviction of General Krstic, commander of the Drina Corps, because of his role in the Srebrenica genocide. Smajlovic argued that: "[The judgment] says that nothing happened to anyone as a result of actions by the Drina Corps, and [Krstic] was convicted because people died the way they died, and he could have known that." If a viewer were to conclude anything from this, it would likely be that The Hague tribunal convicted Krstic for no reason – or simply because he is a Serb.
In fact, according to the judgment, Srebrenica Muslim men did die as a result of actions by the Drina Corps. Members of the Zvornik Brigade, which belonged to the Drina Corps, participated in the executions in the village of Orahovac (paragraphs 123-124 of the judgment) and in the village of Nezuk (para. 127). Members of the same brigade transported Muslims to the execution site at the Petkovci dam (para. 125), and the Drina Corps military police brought the civilians to the Branjevo farm, another execution site (para. 126). Nowhere in the judgment does it say that Krstic only “could have known” about the killings, as Smajlovic described it. Instead, the judgment says that Krstic knew that by allowing Drina Corps resources to be used he was making a substantial contribution to the execution of the Bosnian Muslim
prisoners (para. 137).
Finally, in the Television Politika program "Problem" on April 30, 2004, Kosta Cavoski stated that Slobodan Milosevic is charged with command responsibility only in the indictment relating to Kosovo, whereas the indictments for Croatia and Bosnia charge Milosevic only as participant in the joint criminal enterprise "together with tens of thousands of other individuals." The inference of Cavoski’s comment is that the Hague collectively treats the Serbs ("tens of thousands") as war criminals.
In fact, all three indictments charge Milosevic both on the basis of command responsibility and on the basis of his participation in a joint criminal enterprise. What is more, the indictments do not allege that "tens of thousands" of other Serbs participated in joint criminal enterprise. All three indictments, after stating several specific names, simply state that "other known and unknown participants," took part in the criminal enterprise with the purpose of carrying out ethnic cleansing.
The constant use of blatant falsehoods about the work of The Hague tribunal cements the widely-shared hostility against among Serbian society. It does so at the time when it is increasingly clear that Serbia will remain excluded from Europe if it does not cooperate with The Hague. A meaningful debate about such cooperation is impossible without more responsible and accurate reporting and analysis of the Tribunal and its work.
Bogdan Ivanisevic is Human Rights Watch researcher on the former Yugoslavia.