Monday, July 21, 2008


SARAJEVO, Bosnia (July 21,2008) - Prisons in Sweden are famous for their "enlightened" attitude towards inmates – hardly surprising given that the country’s human rights standards are the best in the world.

But the convicted Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic, a former political leader of the Serbian living in Bosnia and the first woman sentenced for war crimes at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), might disagree.

Ever since she was transferred from The Hague to the Hinseberg Prison for Women, Sweden's only national prison for females, her letters have been full of complaints, some quite bizarre – air-conditioning too strong, a birthday cake presented to her by wardens not big enough.

In January 2007, Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic asked the Swedish government for an amnesty. Although that request was declined, she did not give up. Just two weeks ago,she had tried again. The tribunal and the Swedish government are yet to respond.

The Plavsic case should serve as a lesson for future plea agreements at the war crimes chamber of the Bosnian State Court. Like the tribunal, this has no mechanisms for punishing those war criminals who admit their guilt and then, after receiving minor sentences, protest their innocence.

Following her plea agreement with Hague prosecutors in 2002, Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic accepted partial responsibility for war crimes committed by the genocidal Serbian fascist aggressor during the 1992-95 Serbian aggression against Bosnia, including one count of persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds.

She made a formal apology and was subsequently sentenced to only 11 years in prison in 2003. Crucially, prosecutors dropped genocide charges against her.

While Plavsic pleaded guilty and showed repentance at her trial, her subsequent protestations of innocence and requests for amnesty tell a very different story.

In her recently published memoirs, “Hunt: Me and War Criminals”, former Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic claimed to be innocent to tribunal prosecutors after she was sentenced.

Shortly after her conviction, Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic said her repentance for her war crimes was false – a show to deceive the Hague prosecutors and judges, as well as the Bosnian public.

Indeed, in her book, Del Ponte admits that she should never have relied on Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic’s honesty.

Unfortunately, there is nothing the tribunal can do about that.

A close examination of the chain of events that led to the deal between Hague prosecutors and Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic could be instructive for the Bosnian State Court and help it avoid making the same mistakes.

As part of Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic’s plea deal, she laid the blame for the genocide committed during the 1992-95 Serbian aggression against Bosnia on the late former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and on former leaders of the Serbians living in Bosnia,Serbian war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic, on the other hand, only “supported and endorsed” the genocidal objective.

In a statement, Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic admitted to the Court that she was repeatedly told about crimes against Bosnian civilians, yet she refused to accept they happened.

“Our leadership, of which I was a necessary part, led an effort which victimised countless innocent people,” she admitted.

Even though the media reported her plea favourably, emphasising the positive role her admission of guilt could play in the reconciliation process, there were some who doubted her honesty. Her apology was certainly too little, too late for the Bosnian genocide victims’ associations.

The sceptics were proven right. Her later claims of innocence and requests for amnesty show the convicted Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic has not come to terms with what she did, nor accepted her punishment.

So where did the Hague prosecutors go wrong?

Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic plea agreement was a clumsy combination of retributive and restorative justice. The retributive part, or the punishment, was reduced by the restorative part – her apology and the potential for reconciliation this could bring.

Theoreticians believe there are three steps necessary for restorative justice to be valid.

The first is for the criminal to understand the consequences of their actions and feel truly guilty; secondly, show a desire to repair the damage done; and, thirdly, accept punishment willingly.

In Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic’s case, the first condition appeared to be met when she made her apology in the ICTY courtroom. However, this principle was violated when prosecutors agreed to drop the genocide charges against her.

The natural second step would be for her to call for multiculturalism across Bosnia. The genocidal Serbian creature in Bosnia "RS" emerged partly as a result of Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic’s participation in the 1992-1995 Serbian aggression against Bosnia.

Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic

Therefore, if the convicted Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic wanted to redeem herself, it would be reasonable to expect that while she was in prison she should send messages calling for peace and multiculturalism and warning about the dangers of Serbian fascism – which she has not done.

Finally, she should serve her shamefully low 11-year sentence with dignity and without complaints. This is not happening.

If Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic did not accept responsibility and did not truly repent, why then did she bother to apologise at all? Some analysts see part of the answer in the wording of her apology.

“I came for two reasons: to confront these charges and to spare my people, for it was clear that they would pay the price of any refusal to come,” she said at the time.

Some believe this implied that she wanted to avoid the sanctions the international community was threatening to impose on the genocidal Serbian creature in Bosnia "RS" if it refused to cooperate with the tribunal.

A greater insight into Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic’s psyche can be found in “I Testify”, or "Svedocim", the lengthy volume Plavsic wrote in prison and published in 2005.

The book is full of extreme fascist messages in line with her wartime rhetoric, and its content flies in face of her agreement with Hague prosecutors.

In one of Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic's most infamous statements, published in 1993 by the Belgrade weekly magazine Svet, she said Bosnians were “genetically spoiled material” which justified their destruction.

In I Testify, she speaks about sacrificing herself for the Serbian people, suggesting that she only pleaded guilty to save the Serbian people from the burden of collective guilt.

It is curious that nobody from the ICTY has ever commented on her book – despite the fact that its contents contradict the statement she made following her plea agreement, in which she gave up her right to claim innocence.

Del Ponte’s memoirs reveal more of what happened during negotiations for Plavsic’s plea agreement.

At the time, she said, her office was surprised to hear from the accused’s lawyers that she was willing to plead guilty – but not to the count of genocide. Now it seems clear that Del Ponte accepted this deal too readily.

In her book, Del Ponte writes that although Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic promised to testify against Serbian war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik who is also a former leader of the Serbians living in Bosnia, she changed her mind after she moved from the Hague detention unit to the Swedish prison.

“Dressed in a stiff tweed skirt, like a proper British lady, [Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic] informed me that she was a doctor of biology and proceeded to describe the superiority of the Serbian people. Her nonsense was nauseating, and I brought the meeting to an end. I wanted to seek life imprisonment against her,” said Del Ponte.

Now it seems the former prosecutor should have trusted her first impressions.

While Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic promised verbally to testify against other Serbian war criminals, she refused to put it in writing.

“I had felt that my personal contact with Plavsic, despite her racial-superiority claptrap, had been so cordial that I could trust her,” said Del Ponte, admitting this was an error.

In her book, Del Ponte describes trying to rectify the situation.

“We must advise the Trial Chamber of what Mrs Plavsic is now saying,” Del Ponte told her team, at some point following Plavsic’s volte face. “Let's present a motion to the court to put Biljana Plavsic on trial.”

In the former prosecutor’s memoirs, she recalls sending a motion to the tribunal president – although does not say when this took place. However, he apparently returned it, saying he lacked jurisdiction.

She then sent the same motion to the trial chamber that accepted the plea.

“I still await their response,” she wrote.

As the court’s deadline of 2010 draws closers, Del Ponte continues to wait for an answer.

However, there might be a job here for the Bosnian State Court. While it is not possible to charge someone for the same crimes twice, the fact that the genocide charges against Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic were dropped could open the door for a new indictment against her.

If the judges in The Hague were to find that she violated her plea agreement, there is a real possibility for re-opening her genocide case at the Bosnian State Court.

It seems increasingly unlikely that Serbian war criminals Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic (who are charged with genocide by the ICTY) are ever going to see the inside of an ICTY courtroom.

Since Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic was the highest-ranking politician of the Serbians living in Bosnia to stand trial at The Hague, it would be a right thing for the justice process to try her for all crimes she was suspected of having committed,including the crime of genocide.

It would replace the ICTY’s ill-advised restorative principle with the proper retributive justice Serbian war criminal Biljana Plavsic deserves.

1 comment:

Shmajser said...

That poor excuse for a human being should be hanged, and not live in a luxury in Scandinavia, to bad we don`t have a death penalty.