DID YOU KNOW?  -- Three years before the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, Serbs torched Bosniak villages and killed at least 3,166 Bosniaks around Srebrenica. In 1993, the UN described the besieged situation in Srebrenica as a "slow-motion process of genocide." In July 1995, Serbs forcibly expelled 25,000 Bosniaks, brutally raped many women and girls, and systematically killed 8,000+ men and boys (DNA confirmed).

16 October, 2009


"At the beginning, Plavsic shared the indictment for genocide with Momcilo Krajisnik, the third in command of Bosnian Serbs during the war, thereby becoming the first woman in the world to be accused of genocide. The prosecution dropped that accusation in exchange for her superficial admission of guilt..."

By: Hajrudin Somun
Former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Turkey

Following more strained than peaceful developments in the Balkans, this time around I wanted to avoid the political turbulence prevalent in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Sure enough, the US and the EU are pursuing ways to ease this very tension through a new diplomatic offensive. However, there is one event I cannot skip. And although it took place far from Bosnia, it has deep roots and unavoidable ramifications for what happens in this country. After checking hundreds of Internet sources, including Today's Zaman, I could no longer continue to follow worldwide media attention given to it.

What The Australian daily termed “War Criminal to Get Early Release,” could be expounded in short as follows: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced in the middle of September that Biljana Plavsic, 79, one of the former Bosnian Serb leaders, was granted an early release after serving two-thirds of her 11-year sentence for war crimes in Sweden. The tribunal's judge, Patrick Robinson, said she should be released at the end of October, as entitled under Swedish law, “notwithstanding the gravity of her crimes.” Persons convicted at The Hague tribunal serve most of their sentence outside of the Netherlands.

Plavsic was sentenced in 2003 after she admitted playing a leading role in persecuting Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats on political, racial and religious grounds during the aggression on Bosnia in 1992-1995. Due to plea bargaining, other charges, including genocide, were removed from her indictment.

This case has once again demonstrated the gap that exists in Bosnian politics. Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska entity within Bosnia, immediately flew to Sweden along with a Christian Orthodox priest to congratulate Plavsic, seen as a heroine by most Serbs. On the other end of the spectrum, numerous NGOs -- and especially Bosniak associations of war victims -- protested the tribunal's decision. “It may be in line with international law, but it has nothing to do with justice,” Murat Tahirovic, the head of a Bosniak and Croat war camp prisoners' association, was quoted as saying. “How can we explain this to children whose parents were killed in Serb-run camps?” he asked.

The indulgent and careful treatment of Plavsic by such an international court, created by the United Nations, can be observed from two sides. First, it is possible that she has been looked upon by the majority of male judges and prosecutors as a woman, and only then as someone who was able to commit war crimes. Still prevailing prejudices held by men about women being the weaker half of humanity have a significant impact on general criminality. They have been, as studied by Simonetta Bisi in her “Female Criminality and Gender Difference,” transferred to the legal sphere as well.

When we come to war crimes, women are commonly considered victims of war, not warmongers or war criminals. Women have, without doubt, committed war crimes in the course of history. But in modern times, we only refer to those who participated in atrocities in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Around 5,000 Germans, men and women, were convicted of war crimes by the Allied War Crimes Courts. Of around 500 sentenced to death, the majority of whom were executed, only 21 were women. Most notorious and sadistic among them was Irma Grese, who was hanged in 1945.

Regarding Plavsic, she cannot be compared to the Nazi monster-women, such as Dr. Herta Oberheuser, who used to kill children with oil and remove their limbs. Plavsic was also a doctor of science, a Fulbright scholar and an esteemed professor of biology at Sarajevo University. She initiated, supported and gave an ideological background for the ethnic cleansing of self-proclaimed Serb territories, mass killings and other atrocities being perpetrated by the army of Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is still at large. She was the vice president of the Bosnian Serb war government headed by Radovan Karadzic, whose trial at The Hague tribunal is going to start just next week. Considering how she is a woman, one would think she would show at least some mercy to the thousands upon thousands of Bosnian girls and women. Her soldiers (they were hers because she shared the supreme military command with Karadzic as well), cruelly tortured and mercilessly raped thousands.

Leaving aside the female and human aspect of the case, let me remind you of a mitigating circumstance used by Judge Robinson in his decision to free Plavsic. “She has participated in instrumental works [in prison],” he said, “and she has also occupied herself by cooking and baking.”

The same Judge Robinson and his associates declined to answer Sarajevo magazine Dani's question, “Why was Plavsic really set free?” despite the fact that the tribunal's prosecutor had requested that the legal process be renewed. Its reporter, Edina Becirevic, provided enough evidence that Plavsic's admission of guilt in 2003 “was nothing but a part of the Serbian legal lobby's strategic plan for the political and military leadership of Bosnian Serbs and Serbia to avoid being charged with genocide at the Hague tribunal.”

At the beginning, Plavsic shared the indictment for genocide with Momcilo Krajisnik, the third in command of Bosnian Serbs during the war, thereby becoming the first woman in the world to be accused of genocide. The prosecution dropped that accusation in exchange for her superficial admission of guilt. Instead of the requested 20, she got only 11 years. Following the logic of a chain reaction, Krajisnik was also exempted from a charge of genocide, and, God forbid, it may also be applied to the tribunal's major internee, Radovan Karadzic. There is permanent pressure on The Hague tribunal's prosecution to reduce the Bosnian genocide charges only to the area of Srebrenica, as has already happened in the verdict of Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia at The Hague's International Court of Justice.

Becirevic, an assistant professor of criminology at Sarajevo University, has found additional proof for her disappointment with The Hague tribunal's procedures in the book “Svedocim” (I [bear] witness [that]), written in 2005 by Plavsic while in the Swedish prison. Besides the heroic role she assigned to herself, she glorifies Gen. Mladic, a war criminal in hiding, who is, by her interpretation, a prototype of the Serb hero. Whatever is written in the book -- Becirevic concludes -- fully contradicts with her “I confess,” a statement she made at the tribunal two years ago and “in accordance with the nationalistic genocidal rhetoric.”

It seems Plavsic recognized that she was guilty for what was happening in Bosnia and in order to not be charged with genocide and to get less years in prison, she wrote her book to vindicate herself in front of her Serb nation following her admission of guilt and to show that she had never changed her mind.

In fact, she used to change only tactics, deceiving even such international wise figures as former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Commenting on US and European support for Plavsic's election as the head of Republika Srspka after the war, Newsweek wrote in 1997: “Biljana Plavsic … is no Joan of Arc. She supported the ethnic-cleansing campaign, arguing that Serbs were genetically predisposed to expel Muslims. … But Plavsic has two qualities that appeal to policymakers in Washington and London, where NATO strategy on Bosnia is principally decided these days. She is a realist. …”

It is true that professor Plavsic, a biologist, really has a great interest in genetics, especially when it comes to speaking about Bosnian Muslims, whom she considers to originally have been Serbs. “That's true,” she said: “It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation, this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes.”

Plavsic was no more merciful while describing Serbs who do not follow her philosophy. During the war, regarding Serbs who did not resist threats enough, she said: “There are 12 million of us, and even if 6 million perish, the other 6 million will live decently.” These words of hers remind me of similar ones I heard from Saddam Hussein while personally attending a public rally in times when there were only 14 million Iraqis. Expressing the readiness to sacrifice 7 million of his people, he made my flesh creep voicing almost the same idea as Plavsic did a decade and a half later. “I want true, staunch Iraqis -- even if only half of us will remain in the end,” he had said.

Having already mentioned a personal anecdote, let me add another. I once had the opportunity to work closely with Plavsic before she got the chance to turn her philosophy into reality. She was a member of the collective Bosnian presidency before the war started, and as state adviser for foreign policy, I had to “advise” her as well. While accompanying foreign delegations, I used to tell her politely, “I feel you wouldn't like it if I attend the meeting.” She replied even more politely, saying, “Yes, it would be better not to attend.” At the beginning of the war she was brought to Sarajevo in an armored carrier by Canadian Gen. Lewis MacKenzie to take her brother out of the besieged city. Having to join her through the city, I barely saved her from being kidnapped by annoyed Bosnians who had gathered around her brother's house.

I still wonder what Plavsic would do if, let's say, she met somewhere on the occupied Bosnian territories a “genetically deformed Serb.”

Srebrenica genocide trials thaught us a lesson: the international law encourages new genocides.
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