By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – On Friday, a war-crimes court in Bosnia- Herzegovina handed down its longest sentence yet of 45 years for the crimes committed by Veselin Vlahovic, 44, during the 1992-1995 Balkan conflict, which killed some 100,000 people and left some 2 million refugees. Vlahovic, nicknamed “Batko” was a former member of the Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces “White Angels,” allied to the Bosnian Serb Army, and was known to his victims as the “Monster of Grbavica” and “Master of Life and Death.”
Prosecutors presented the court with a 66-count indictment against Vlahovic, which was also the most extensive list for 1992-95 Bosnian war crimes. Prosecutor Behaija Krnjic said of the indictments, during his closing arguments, “He killed 31 people, took 14 people who have still been considered missing, raped 13 women,” having earlier stated Vlahovic’s “name was the synonym for evil”. Vlahovic pled “not guilty.”
In a verdict that took two hours to read, Vlahovic was found guilty on 60 of the counts (and acquitted on 6 due to lack of evidence) for 31 murders, rapes of at least 13 women and torture and robbery of dozens of civilians in Grbavica and Vraca, Serb-occupied areas of Sarajevo, in 1992.
The verdict drew loud applause from victims’ associations in the heavily guarded and packed courtroom, while Vlahovic sat emotionless through the proceedings. Earlier, he had insulted a witness, a local journalist who reported on his crimes during the war, and according to the prosecution, sent an intimidating letter to a victim’s family.
The 45-year sentence is the maximum that can be given for such crimes. Bosnia-Herzegovina does not practice indefinite imprisonment or the death penalty. Both sides intend to appeal. Although the prosecution received the maximum sentence as requested, it wishes to readdress some of the specific points of the verdict.
Vlahovic is from Montenegro, which was united with Serbia during the Balkan wars. During the war, many Montenegrins supported the Serbs against the Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Kosovo Albanians.
Judge Bozic said Vlahovic’s horrific acts took place between May and July 1992 in three districts of Sarajevo controlled by Serb forces – Grbavica, Kovacici, and Vraca. The judge graphically described several of Vlahovic’s crimes.
Bozic said Vlahovic would often demand ransoms of money or gold for his captives and, “Victims who could not pay for their lives would be typically taken to a recognizable location on Trebevic hill and shot in the head.”
“It was a typical pattern [of his] behavior. Those who had nothing to offer in turn for their lives were typically killed by a shot in the forehead, mouth or temporal bone, according to forensic accounts,” said Judge Bozic.
In one particularly brutal example, “In June 1992, he forced 13 members of the Pecar family out of their home and ordered three male relatives to run across a front line street planted with mines.” Vlahovic ordered his soldiers to open fire, which he knew would result in return fire from the combat lines. In the cross-fire, one woman died and three family members, including a girl, were wounded and left on the street.
Judge Bozic further described Vlahovic’s rape of a seven month pregnant woman in front of her young daughter in their apartment, and another sequential rape in which Vlahovic raped a daughter and then her mother as the daughter was forced to watch.
Judge Bozic concluded that Vlahovic carried out “horrid, cruel and manifold criminal acts”.
Vlahovic has been sent to prison before, only to escape. 12 years ago in Montenegro, he was jailed for robbery, but went on the lam. He then hid in Spain under a Bulgarian passport until 2010 when he was arrested and extradited in August to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Vlahovic is also wanted for armed robbery in Spain, and murder in Serbia.
Perhaps this time, the monster will stay locked away.
For further information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Bosnia’s ‘Monster of Grbavica’ Gets 45 Years – 29 March 2013
BBC News – Bosnia Jails Serb Veselin Vlahovic for War Crimes – 29 March 2013
RFE/RL – Bosnia’s ‘Monster of Grbavica’ Gets 45 Years For War Crimes – 29 March 2013
Sky News – Warlord ‘Batko’ Jailed For Sarajevo Killings – 29 March 2013