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Yugoslav war: UN increases sentence on two Serbian war criminals

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has increased prison sentences on two top former Serbian security officials.

Franko Simatovic - seen here in 2017 - was accused of working with Jovica Stanišic to train death squads in the former Yugoslavia [ISTOCK]

Jovica Stanišic and Franko Simatovic were convicted of training death squads accused of ethnic cleansing during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

They will serve 15 years instead of the 12 they were originally given in 2021.

The court's final verdict on the former Yugoslavia is also the first to prove a direct link between the Serbian state and a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Mr Stanisic, a former head of Serbia's State Security Service, and his deputy, Franko Simatovic, a senior intelligence operative, were key allies of Serbia's late ex-President Slobodan Milosevic.

The court found the spymasters guilty of establishing training camps and deploying infamous death squads, the paramilitary units called the Red Berets.

They were also held responsible for involvement in crimes across Bosnia and in one town in Croatia as members of a joint criminal plan to eliminate non-Serbs from swathes of land during the Balkan wars.

Following the judgment, Kada Hotic, a former seamstress in Srebrenica whose husband's body was found in a mass grave, spoke to the BBC sitting near a fountain outside the tribunal and reflected on her decades long quest to find the truth.

"I'm looking at this beautiful blue sky and this building of the ICTY which managed to bring us partial justice. I lost my sons, my two children, my brothers, I cannot live in my Srebrenica, I just live to fight for justice. I want people to live in a country and not kill each other, we are all just humans," she said.

Kada Hotic lost her husband, son and two brothers during the conflict [Source Credit: BBC News]

Ms Hotic - who also lost her son and two brothers in the genocide - was born in 1945 and never met her father, who died fighting the Nazis in the World War Two.

She told the BBC she that she regretted that her mother never fought for justice for her father, and that she hopes this ruling will inspire others.

But as Dr Iva Vukusic, assistant professor in international history at Utrecht University explains, the length of the legal process which spanned two decades, underscores the complexity of proving war crimes in international courts, and highlights some of the challenges for those investigating Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

"It sends a message, it's worth working on this, it's worth documenting, it's worth investigating, there is hope in that regard, and not all is lost," she told the BBC.

The evidence gathered during these trials provides a historical narrative of what happened during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Many hope it will help to heal the scars of the past and bring divided communities together to build a peaceful, unified future.

"It's the missing piece of the puzzle," Nenad Golcevski, from the Humanitarian Law Centre said.

"Now there can't be more denying of the role of Serbia, as a final judgment it completes the legacy, now it's up to us, the people in the Balkans, to take that legacy forward, to use it, to find lessons from it, so that something like this is never repeated again."


(c) 2023, BBC News


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