Crime and Punishment

The Absurd Case of Naser Oric

“Convicted but released” came the news Friday morning, striking the Balkans tinderbox like stray lightning. Naser Oric, the Muslim warlord of Srebrenica, was convicted of war crimes by the Hague Inquisition – and sentenced to less than time spent in prison. Upon hearing the verdict, he smiled and brandished a Cuban cigar. Three days later, he returned to Bosnia to a hero’s welcome.

“Now it’s official: we defended ourselves, they committed genocide,” said Safet Omerovic, who served under Oric during the war, as he greeted his former commander at the Sarajevo airport. Thousands escorted Oric’s motorcade to his postwar home in Tuzla.

The verdict came as a shock to Serbs, both in Bosnia and in Serbia. Just about every politician and official in Belgrade and Banja Luka slammed the decision, calling it a travesty of justice and questioning the credibility and purpose of the ICTY. Even Natasa Kandic, a professional agitator for the Empire used to crating false rumors of atrocities, had to admit the ICTY wasn’t trying very hard to convict the “defender of Srebrenica.” Serbian President Boris Tadic, usually supportive of the Hague Inquisition and pledging his country’s complete submission to its demands, commented that Western courts handed down harsher sentences for shoplifting.

Another Trial, Another Farce

Oric was arrested in April 2003, by undercover agents of the Inquisition, and sent to The Hague shortly thereafter. He was charged on grounds of command responsibility, for the murder of civilians, wanton destruction of civilian property, and abuse of prisoners committed by forces under his control. The Inquisition’s verdict eventually claimed that Muslim forces in Srebrenica were not under Oric’s control, but that he had “reasons to know” prisoners were being abused by his “police.”

The first part of this contention is patently false, while the second is a severe understatement. Nothing happened in Srebrenica without the knowledge of Naser Oric, who was far more than a “young, inexperienced” militia commander. He was quite literally the warlord of that enclave, operating independently of the Corps command in Tuzla; his chain of command went straight to the top – to Izetbegovic himself. The man who “grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork” while watching a video of “burning houses, dead bodies, severed heads, and people fleeing” was “as bloodthirsty a warrior as ever crossed a battlefield.” (Bill Schiller, Toronto Star, July 1995)

The only way the Inquisitors could have failed to prove Oric’s role in Srebrenica was by actively trying to sabotage their own case. Srebrenica was a major part of the proceedings against Slobodan Milosevic, and there were plenty of testimonies and evidence to draw from. For example, in February 2004 French General Philippe Morillon testified that Oric was indeed a warlord, and under direct orders from Sarajevo:

“Naser Oric was a warlord who reigned by terror in this area and over the population itself. … He could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollection, he didn’t even look for an excuse” (quoted here).

Both Morillon and Lt. Gen. Karremans, commander of the Dutch troops charged with patrolling the Srebrenica “safe area,” testified that Oric’s forces had razed 192 Serb villages. Morillon even said that he was “convinced” the events of 1995 were, in the words of Judge Robinson, a “direct reaction to what Naser Oric did to the Serbs two years before.”

As the Milosevic trial has shown rather graphically, the ICTY is willing to run roughshod over its own rules, evidence, and procedure in order to achieve its preordained verdicts. Every indictment, every trial, every sentence has a clear political purpose. So what was the point in going after Oric?

It appears to have been the same, lame attempt at staging a perception of evenhandedness that motivated the charges against KLA terrorist Ramush Haradinaj last year, only to see him released and back in politics within months. An afterthought in the BBC‘s report on Oric’s sentencing summed it up best:

“Correspondents say many Bosnian Muslims regard him as a hero, and believe the decision to prosecute him was made to counter complaints by Serbs that the tribunal was biased against them.”


The Prague-based Transitions Online gave a good roundup of Serb reactions:

“Dragan Cavic, the president of Republika Srpska (RS) … said the ruling was not a sentence but a reward for war crimes against Serbs. A statement published by his office characterized the verdict as ‘the biggest disgrace and greatest demonstration of political influence on a Hague tribunal verdict.’

“Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said the verdict ‘calls into question the credibility of the Hague tribunal given that hardly any war crime committed against the Serb nation has been seriously punished by this court.’ He said Oric’s light sentence sent a message that no crimes had been committed against Serbs.”

But neither Ivanic nor Cavic, nor Serbian President Tadic, actually had the intestinal fortitude to challenge the legitimacy of the Inquisition itself. Indeed, much of the Serb outrage stems from a thoroughly misguided belief that the ICTY is somehow a legitimate international court, with the authority to establish facts and punish the guilty. This belief is apparent in the protests of Andreja Mladenovic, spokesman for the Serbian PM, who cited facts and numbers as if the ICTY actually cared:

“‘We have documents showing that 3,260 people were found dead around Srebrenica from 1992-1995, and 50 are still listed as missing,’ said Mladenovic. ‘All the evidence shows that these crimes were committed by the units under Oric’s command.'”

President Tadic’s adviser for ICTY affairs, Jovan Simic, actually came the closest to grasping the message behind Oric’s sentencing. In a statement to the Belgrade daily Kurir, he said, “What the verdict practically comes down to is, whoever has good lobbyists can kill freely. It demonstrates how the notion of justice is perceived in the world today.”

Bolstering the Myth

Bosnia’s Muslims also believe the ICTY is a legitimate international authority, albeit for different reasons. The ICTY’s claim that “genocide” took place in Srebrenica in 1995 is the main support column of a narrative of the 1992-1995 war embraced by the Muslim political establishment. According to this story, the peace-loving, innocent “Bosnians” were brutally attacked out of the blue by the bloodthirsty Yugoslav Army. This “aggression” from Serbia had the purpose of conquering Bosnia (maybe splitting it with Croatia, maybe not – depending on the time of day) and physically destroying its Muslim population through “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”

The story was concocted in 1992, with the help of Western PR companies that had sold a story of “Serb aggression” in Croatia in 1991, and had Americans believe the Iraqis were bayoneting Kuwaiti babies in their incubators the year prior. It was a smash hit in the West, but more importantly, it rallied the Muslims of Bosnia around Izetbegovic as their undisputed leader. Transitions Online subscribes entirely to this story, maintaining that Bosnia was a war of “outside aggression directed against a largely blameless victim.”

Too bad the ICTY’s own numbers blow it completely out of the water. Research done for the Inquisition by two demographers in 2003 established that the number of war dead in Bosnia was around 102,000. It surfaced from obscurity in late 2004, and was finally acknowledged by the mainstream Western media in 2005; until then, they had been repeating the Muslim-fabricated mantra about 250,000 killed. Even a cursory analysis of the ICTY numbers suggests that, while Muslim military casualties were disproportionately large, civilian casualties on all sides corresponded to the percentages of general population. If that doesn’t indicate civil war, nothing ever will.

Yet the Bosnian Muslim establishment continues to echo Safet Omerovic (quoted above), declaring that every atrocity perpetrated by its militia was done in righteous self-defense, and therefore cannot be a crime. Conversely, anything done by the Serbs is criminal, since they are by definition genocidal aggressors.

Thanks to this kind of thinking, today’s Bosnia-Herzegovina is no closer to true peace than it was in 1996, or 1991. Muslim chauvinists who just months ago sabotaged U.S.-sponsored constitutional amendments with impunity, now campaign on a rabid extremist platform of abolishing the Dayton peace agreement entirely, and “wringing Serbs’ necks.” Oric is just the “war hero” they need, with the elections coming in October.

Tragedy and Farce

Considered carefully, however, no other outcome of the Oric trial was really possible, given the circumstances under which the ICTY operates. It was set up to create a historical narrative of the 1990s Balkans wars that blamed them entirely on Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbs (not making a particular distinction, either) while setting up the Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Albanians of Kosovo as largely innocent victims who may have committed some atrocities in their justified self-defense. Both Washington and Brussels, whose hands were drenched in Balkans blood as well, were given a free pass – as founders, donors, and enforcers of the Tribunal would be expected to. Mesmerized by propaganda invoking the imagery of Hitler and the Nazis to describe the Bosnian atrocities, only a few bothered to note that the ICTY was a fraud.

Even if Oric had somehow been convicted in proportion to the atrocities he was actually responsible for, the ICTY would have remained what it is: a farcical tool of total war, paradoxically pretending to enforce the principles of civilized behavior its own creators have abandoned a long time ago.


Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.