Bosnia’s State Prosecutor’s Office on 18 January moved to halt an investigation into war crimes allegedly organized and committed by 19 Bosnian police and army forces in May 1992 when, according to Serbian sources, 42 former Yugoslav soldiers were killed and dozens wounded. The Prosecutor’s Office said there was no evidence that the suspects had been involved in any criminal actions.
The incident, dubbed the “Dobrovoljacka street shooting”, has been a major point of contention between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as among Bosnia’s ethnic groups.
Forty 40 Serbian soldiers were allegedly killed in the incident, while Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) soldiers took then-Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic hostage at the Sarajevo airport, which was at the time under JNA control. Eight JNA soldiers were killed in the incident and 215 others captured.
The move by the Prosecutor’s Office to drop the investigation targeting high-ranking Bosnian officials will lend greater impetus to Bosnian Serb nationalist rhetoric. Indeed, Bosnian Serbs have stepped up calls to abolish the state-level prosecutor’s office and the state court and to transfer their authority to the entity governments.
Further complicating matters, Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecution Office is conducting its own, unilateral investigation into the Dobrovoljacka Street incident.
On the war crimes level, relations between Bosnia and Serbia have continued to sour over the past couple of years, helped along by Serbia’s penchant for filing extradition requests for Bosnian wartime officials who attempt to travel abroad. The Dobrovoljacka Street incident is part of this tit-for-tat dispute.
Certainly, there was a crime committed on Dobrovoljacka Street. Yugoslav National Army (JNA) soldiers were killed, either by Bosnian regular forces or paramilitary units. For the sake of justice and for the families of victims, someone should be held responsible; in the least, a proper investigation is warranted, and it appears this will still happen on some level.
What may not be entirely clear via mainstream media reports is that while the Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office has decided to drop the investigation into the 19 officials in question, it will still pursue an investigation into the murder of the JNA soldiers. However, Bosnian Serbs, perhaps rightfully so, have their reservations that any progress will be made to this end.
To date, two Bosnian wartime officials have been arrested in connection with the incident; both of them arrested abroad on Serbian extradition warrants.
Ejup Ganic, a former member of Bosnia’s presidency, and Bosnian Army general Jovan Divjak were detained nine months apart on a Serbian warrant while traveling to London and Vienna, respectively.
After spending several weeks in the custody, the British and Austrian courts decided that they had been wrongfully detained and rejected Serbia’s request for their extradition.
There are 17 other officials, most of them high-ranking military, police and government officials, for whom arrest warrants were issued and set to Interpol in November 2010 at Serbia’s request.
Drastic Implications for Fragile Relations
Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, has long criticized the Bosnian judiciary for being lenient towards Bosniaks and prosecuting mostly Serbs for war crimes. Today he can effectively claim that the halting of the investigation is proof positive of this. The Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office has handed him ammunition on a plate and it will be used to its fullest.
“I think that Republika Srpska can have absolutely no confidence in the courts and prosecutors of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Dodik told local media, stressing that he will “continue to fight against that monster which exists for prosecuting and trying only members of one nationality.”
Bosnian Serb officials have on several occasions demanded the abolition of the Bosnia’s state prosecutor’s office and federal court, and even threatened secession from Bosnia. Of course, Dodik’s criticism was loudest when the state prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into corruption and embezzlement charges against him.
Of course, Dodik will not succeed in abolishing the state court and prosecutor’s office, which would be in violation of the country’s constitution and invite the wrath of the international community.
There is a precedent: In the spring of 2011, Republika Srpska called a referendum on whether Bosnian Serbs should continue to cooperate with the country’s war crimes court. The international community intervened making the move too costly for Dodik.
by Anes Alic for ISA Intel. Copyright 2012 ISA Intel. All rights reserved