Unprecedented conviction of Muslim military leaders for their troops’
By Helen Warrell in The
Hague (TU No 444, 17-Mar-06)
Two high-ranking Bosnian
Muslim commanders, Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura, this week
became the first tribunal indictees ever to be convicted solely
for crimes committed by their subordinates.
of the Bosnian Army’s Third Corps, will serve five years in
prison for murder and cruel treatment of Bosnian Croat and Serb
civilians carried out by his troops. Meanwhile Kubura, who commanded
the Third Corps Seventh Mountain Brigade, was sentenced to two-and-a-half
years for plunder of Bosnian Croat and Serb dwellings by those under
Both men have been found
guilty on the basis of their “command responsibility”
over Bosnian army forces in central Bosnia in 1993. At no point
did the prosecution allege that either of the Bosnian army leaders
had planned or ordered any of the crimes themselves.
Hadzihasanovic has been
found criminally responsible for “physical and psychological
abuse” of Croat and Serb prisoners being held in various ad-hoc
detention centres. In one incident, detainees were forced to walk
in the dark through a line of soldiers who beat them with “wooden
According to tribunal
rules, commanders bear individual criminal responsibility for crimes
committed by their subordinates if they fail to prevent illegal
actions or do not punish the perpetrators. Prosecutors suggested
in their closing arguments that Hadzihasanovic should be sentenced
to 20 years’ imprisonment, and Kubura to ten years.
In November last year,
another Bosnian Muslim commander, Sefer Halilovic, was acquitted
of command responsibility for the murders of 62 Bosnian Croats in
Grabovica and Uzdol in September 1993. Judges ruled that they were
not convinced that Halilovic was exercising “effective control”
over the relevant troops at the time of the killings.
Hadzihasanovic and Kubura,
who were initially indicted for seven and six counts of violations
of the laws or customs of war respectively, were found not guilty
of the majority of the charges brought against them. In several
instances, the trial judges found that prosecutors had failed to
bring evidence to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that
the accused had been in breach of their military duties.
One of the most contested
aspects of the case was Hadzihasanovic’s alleged control over
the “Mujahedin”, Islamic militants, who arrived in central
Bosnia in the second half of 1992. These foreign forces, who came
from North Africa and the Middle East, intended to aid the Bosnian
Muslim side in their fight against Serb aggressors.
Reading the judgment
summary aloud in court, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti acknowledged
that the Mujahedin “differed considerably” from the
local Muslim population in respect of their “fighting methods”.
Judge Antonetti then
confirmed that the chamber would not find the accused responsible
for any acts committed by the Mujahedin before they came formally
under his command through the establishment of the “El Mujahed”
unit as a detachment of the Third Corps in August 1993.
Hadzihasanovic was therefore
convicted of responsibility for crimes carried out at El Mujahed’s
Orasac detention camp in central Bosnia in October 1993. One of
the incidents, which the judges identified as being “particularly
heinous”, was the beheading of one of the detainees, Dragan
According to the judgment,
on October 21, 1993, Popovic and three other prisoners were taken
to a pit and surrounded by 50 to 100 El Mujahed soldiers. Two of
the soldiers beheaded Popovic with a hatchet, and the prisoners
were made to kiss his severed head while the troops sang in “ritual
The other guilty verdicts
against Hadzihasanovic involve murders and cruel treatment by members
of the Third Corps’ various brigades against Bosnian Croat
and Serb detainees in Bugojno and Zenica.
Kubura was judged guilty
of failing to punish acts of plunder by the Seventh Brigade in the
villages of Susanj, Ovnak, Brajkovici, Grahovici and Vares which
occurred in June and November 1993. The judges’ summary states
that the accused “gave his consent” that members of
his brigade could share the plundered goods.
Judge Antonetti noted
that both accused had already spent 828 days in the United Nations
detention unit, which would be given as credit on their sentences.
By this calculation, Hadzihasanovic has approximately two years
and nine months yet to serve and Kubura should be released in just
under three months’ time.
Helen Warrell is an IWPR
reporter in The Hague.
recommended by Michael Dugandzic