Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 13:37 GMT

Victims Want Serbian Documents Made Public

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Simon Jennings
Publication Date 6 February 2009
Citation / Document Symbol TU No 587
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Victims Want Serbian Documents Made Public, 6 February 2009, TU No 587, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4991335a21.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Bosnian survivors' group says confidential material could prove Belgrade ran prison camps.

By Simon Jennings in The Hague (TU No 587, 6-Feb-09)

A war victims' organisation in Bosnia has asked the Hague tribunal to hear its arguments for confidential Serbian military documents in the court's possession to be made public.

The Association of Concentration Camp Detainees of Bosnia and Hercegovina hopes the documents will show that refugee camps which housed Bosniak, Croat and Serb civilians in Serbia during the war were actually prisons, deliberately established as such by the former Yugoslav authorities.

The organisation wants to bring its case in front of judges at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, as part of the contempt of court proceedings against former spokesperson for the prosecution Florence Hartmann.

Hartmann is accused of revealing confidential information relating to the documents, which reportedly include minutes of meetings of Serbia's Supreme Defence Council, SDC, and which were obtained confidentially in the trial of the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic, who went on trial in The Hague in 2002 for war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, died in his cell in March 2006, before proceedings could be completed.

Tribunal judges reportedly granted parts of the documents confidential status at Serbia's request, under tribunal rules of procedure and evidence which allow a state to keep its documents secret if their disclosure could "prejudice national security interests".

The minutes from the SDC meetings are widely believed to contain crucial information about Belgrade's involvement in the Yugoslav wars, and both lawyers and the media have criticised the decision not to make them public.

Members of the Association of Concentration Camp Detainees of Bosnia and Hercegovina believe that some of the documents could reveal that the camps in the early Nineties were intended as prisons.

Serbian officials have denied that this was the case, arguing that they served as collection centres for refugees in the region and maintain that conditions at the camps were in line with international law.

However, several former detainees have said otherwise.

According to the association's president Murat Tahirovic, approximately 100 of them have already brought cases before the war crimes court in Belgrade to attempt to prove that these were illegal detention camps where prisoner mistreatment was commonplace.

Last year, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting twice wrote to former tribunal president Judge Fausto Pocar seeking permission to request the disclosure of the SDC documents, but received no reply.

Tahirovic, however, is hopeful that his request, made to Judge Patrick Robinson, who took over the tribunal presidency in November 2008, will be accepted.

"The ICTY was set up to prosecute people for war crimes against the people of the former Yugoslavia," he told IWPR. "This court exists because of us. I don't see any reason why they would not meet our demands."

According to Tahirovic's court submission, the continued confidentially of the SDC documents has had a negative effect on reconciliation in the western Balkans and on the way the court is viewed in the region.

Protecting their content had led to "destabilising relations in the region [and] the dissatisfaction of victims" as well as a loss of faith in the tribunal and international justice, he said.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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