Dr. Ljubiša Simić’s new monograph “Brčko: How war crimes are condoned and ‘normalized’” deals with largely unknown and unpunished criminal acts committed in Brčko District during the Bosnian conflict, 1992 – 1995. It is reasonable to assume that the anonymity and impunity of these crimes is due to the ethnic background of the overwhelming majority of the victims, who happened to be Serbs. However, it must also be pointed out that one of segments of this monograph focuses on the shelling, throughout the war, of Brčko town, which was under Serbian control, resulting in death and injury to hundreds of residents of all three ethnic groups, Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. The names of victims on the lists which the author meticulously provides for each year of the war clearly show that. One supposes that these facts must pose a significant danger to the established narrative of the Bosnian conflict, which explains why the indiscriminate shelling of Brčko, which in every relevant way is analogous to that of Sarajevo, is systematically ignored and why nobody has been called to account for its destructive consequences. Other major features of this new monograph are savage mutilation murders of Serbian prisoners of war in the villages of Boderište and Lipovac, which nearly twenty years later the Public Prosecutor’s office in Brčko is still officially “investigating”, and evidence of concentration and torture camps for Serbian civilians for which also no guilty parties have been brought to justice. This monograph is a ringing indictment of the judicial system in Brčko District for its refusal, in spite of ample evidence, to prosecute perpetrators of serious war crimes against citizens of Serbian ethnicity. The text that follows is the English summary of Dr. Simić’s book.
The saying “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” is inapplicable on both counts in the District of Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The District was set up as a result of international arbitration after the termination of the Bosnian war and signing of the Dayton peace accords in 1995. It has a separate judicial system and a Criminal Code written especially for it by foreign consultants. Its institutions are overseen directly by the Deputy Head of the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo, who is responsible for the proper operation of government and, in particular, for the satisfactory functioning of the District’s autonomous legal institutions.
With the “eyes of the world” focused on the District of Brčko and, presumably, scrutinizing its progress away from the lawlessness of the nineties, one would expect implementation of the rule of law to be among the top priorities. Investigation and prosecution of at least the major war crimes committed in Brčko by the parties in the civil conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 ought logically to be the chief tasks of the local prosecutor and the judiciary.
This monograph by Ljubiša Simić, which follows in the footsteps of Bukvik: crime without punishment [A reader for adults about the banality of a Balkan war] strongly suggests that this logical assumption is without foundation. The present monograph, which is as abundantly supported by primary source materials as the previous one, is a case study of five egregious war crimes committed in the District of Brčko during the conflict all of which – so far – have remained completely uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
In the first of these episodes which took place on March 8, 1993, at the locality of Boderište, a group of twelve soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Srpska [VRS] walked into an ambush set by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and were captured. Contrary to the laws and customs of war, while in captivity they were tortured and executed in hideous fashion. Their mutilated bodies were ultimately delivered to the Serbian Prisoner Exchange Commission, but in shocking condition, as attested by autopsy reports which are extensively cited.
A similar incident occurred on April 27, 1993, at the locality of Lipovac involving twelve captured VRS military personnel. Many of the bodies were so disfigured that even close relatives had difficulty in identifying them.
In the third incident, the village of Vučilovac was attacked by units of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina on December 12, 1992. Eight civilians are identified as victims of the attack, about 700 residents of the village were expelled, and close to 200 homes were destroyed. Survivor statements point to Pero Vincentić, a local commander in the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the person in charge of the attack and subsequent events. Vincentić is alive today, resides in the District of Brčko, and is fully accessible to the District judicial system should it see fit to open an investigation.
Internment camps for civilians and ethnic cleansing in the District of Brčko during the 1992 – 1995 conflict is another topic covered in the monograph. Locations of eight camps for civilians and survivor statements about conditions in some of them are given.
Finally, for the first time evidence about the indiscriminate shelling of the town of Brčko and its impact is presented and discussed systematically. The peculiarity of the bombardment of Brčko, which continued unabated throughout the war, is that artillery shells were launched not only by hostile forces from the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina but also from the other bank of the Sava River, in neighboring Croatia. That gives the destruction of Brčko and the indiscriminate killing of its residents also an international dimension. Lists of victims in Brčko for each of the war years show the multinational character of the suffering, with Serbs, Croats, and Muslims represented among the casualties.
A notable feature of this monograph are lists of suspected perpetrators for most of the war crime incidents. The lists are based on victim and survivor statements that are readily available to District of Brčko judicial authorities. No prior judgment of criminal responsibility is made, that being the province of law enforcement institutions, but a strong prima facie case is made that two decades after these events these authorities are not eager to use the information at their disposal to open a proper investigation and, where possible, to secure the culprits’ conviction.
Correspondence originating from the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo and the local Prosecutor in Brčko, Zekerija Mujkanović, is reproduced in the Appendix. It reflects the insouciant attitude displayed by officials whose primary duty is to ensure the rule of law in the District. It also may explain to a large degree the atmosphere of impunity which protects war crimes suspects in Brčko from the threat of prosecution.
Finally, a special Appendix contains a selection of statements given to the Commissariat for refugees in Belgrade during World War II, from 1941 to 1944, by persons from Brčko and the environs who were obliged to flee ethnic persecution at the time of that conflict. The striking analogies between crimes committed during World War II, which mostly remained unpunished, and the resurgence of similar activity during the latest Bosnian war in the 1990s should serve as a warning both to the local authorities and the international community which is monitoring their work. Sweeping war crimes under the rug and leaving them unpunished is an erroneous strategy which in multiethnic communities which cultivate a vivid historical memory does not resolve any issues. It is a practice that encourages the future reenactment of similar atrocities.
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 Ljubiša Simić, Bukvik: zločin bez kazne (Čitanka za odrasle o banalnosti jednog balkanskog rata), Belgrade, 2012