Bosnian ex-official could face Serbian trial in 1992 killings

McClatchy NewspapersApril 13, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Despite an explicit warning by a British investigator that Serbia's charges against a former high Bosnian official were based on "misinterpretation and prejudice," Britain Tuesday formally opened extradition proceedings against MIT-educated Ejup Ganic, a move that could lead to his deportation to a war crimes trial in Serbia.

Two courts had previously investigated the Serb allegations that the former Bosnian vice president was responsible for the "unlawful killing and wounding" of Serb troops in Sarajevo in May 1992, at the beginning of the war, but neither pressed charges.

The Serbian extradition request also said that Ganic was in charge when Bosnian forces allegedly attacked a military hospital, wounding two patients, and was responsible for the mistreatment of arrested army officers, an attack on medical vehicles, as well as the assault on the departing army column.

The United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia dismissed the Serb charges in June 2003, saying that the shooting by Bosnian forces at Serb troops departing their barracks in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo May 3, 1992, was in fact a lawful use of force.

The Serb-led federal army had kidnapped President Alija Izetbegovic on the afternoon of May 2 as he was returning from an international conference on the future of Bosnia, and Ganic took his place for less than 48 hours.

Damir Arnaut, a Bosnian government legal counsel, said most of the allegations concerned the period before Ganic was acting president. He also said the Serb submission contained no new evidence or information beyond what prior tribunals had been given.

Philip Alcock, a British international prosecutor at the Bosnian State Court in Sarajevo, spent two and a half years looking into the charges, and determined by the time he left the post in December that Ganic "was not culpable" in the killing of the Yugoslav soldiers on May 3, nor for the deaths of Serb troops the previous day.

In a submission to the British government last month, obtained by McClatchy, Alcock was highly critical of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution office, which initiated the charges against Ganic. "It was clear to me that they displayed bias to the point of illogicality when investigating crimes against their people," he said. He said the Serb authorities made "sweeping assumptions based on misinterpretation and prejudice" and their indictment was based on a "political imperative."

The British Home Office, which oversees extradition issues, didn't explain its reasons for certifying the Serbian request, but said it was valid and had been "made in the approved way."

The next hearing in the Ganic case is scheduled for April 20, and the extradition process can take months.

Alcock said that if Ganic is extradited to Serbia, he could suffer a "flagrant denial of justice."

"I believe there is a real risk that he will be prejudiced at trial or punished more severely by reason of being a former high-ranking Bosnian Muslim," Alcock said in the submission.

The Serbian letter charges Ganic with "war crime (sic) against the sick and wounded," "unlawful killing and wounding of the enemy," and the "use of forbidden means of combat" — all parts of the Serbian legal code, the language of which was drawn from the 1949 Geneva Conventions and other international law instruments.

In the actual incident on Dobrovoljacka (Volunteers Street) on the evening of May 3, it said Izetbegovic had given his personal guarantee that a column of 30 Serb-controlled federal army vehicles could evacuate their barracks in Sarajevo. It quoted Ganic as saying that he was in command and Izetbegovic couldn't make such decisions on his own.

It said that Ganic had "personally controlled the attack" by Bosnian forces on the departing military. Both the Hague Tribunal and the Sarajevo court rejected that contention.

Alcock said in his submission that there was confusion on both the Serb and Bosnian forces. He concluded: "I do not think that there is any realistic prospect that Dr. Ganic would be convicted of any war crimes for the convoy attack if he were to be tried in a fair and impartial tribunal."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

British arrest of Bosnian leader revives dormant Balkan tensions

Obama's nuclear summit yields results he sought

Worried father turned in 5 Americans to Pakistani police

U.S. to delay report on allegations of Chinese currency manipulation

With Stevens' departure, a judicial era passes

Another GOP senator blocks extension of jobless benefits

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service