War crimes fugitive: Goran Hadzic

25/07/2008

Croatian Serb war crimes indictee Goran Hadzic has been on the run for four years.

(Various sources)

photo

Goran Hadzic. [File]

On June 4th 2004, a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) confirmed an indictment, signed by then-chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, against former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.

On the morning of July 13th that year, officials of The Hague tribunal handed over the document and an arrest warrant -- both under seal -- to the Serbian foreign ministry, asking authorities "to act with all due diligence and within 72 hours".

Seven hours later, Hadzic, who was living in a villa in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad at the time, left his home carrying a large bag and disappeared. He fled 17 hours before the Serbian judiciary asked the police to arrest him.

After being told that Hadzic was impossible to find and that his whereabouts were unknown, the ICTY made public the indictment against him on July 16th 2004, since what was supposed to be a sealed document had already reached the press.

The former Croatian Serb leader thus joined the list of 21 other war crimes fugitives from the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, sought by the UN tribunal at the time.

Del Ponte accused the Serbian authorities of having tipped off Hadzic about his impending arrest.

Born on September 17th 1958 in the municipality of Vinkovci in Croatia, Hadzic worked as a warehouseman before the 1991-1995 conflict in the country. In the 1980s, he joined the League of Communists -- Party for Democratic Changes and later, the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). On June 10th 1990, he was elected chairman of the party for Vukovar and continued to rise through the ranks.

After Croatia declared independence on June 25th 1991, Hadzic was appointed president of the government of the self-declared Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Srem. On February 26th 1992, he was elected president of the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina. He remained in this position until December 1993.

UN prosecutors have charged him with eight counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war for his alleged involvement in persecutions, extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, deportation, wanton destruction and plunder of public or private property.

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The indictment covers the period between June 25th 1991 and the end of his presidency in December 1993. It alleges that Hadzic participated as a co-perpetrator in a joint criminal enterprise, seeking "the permanent forcible removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia in order to make them part of a new Serb-dominated state through the commission of crimes".

Others listed as members of this joint criminal enterprise included Milan Martic, another former Croatian Serb leader, as well as some key Serbian figures at the time, including late President Slobodan Milosevic, state security chief Jovica Stanisic and special units commander Franko Simatovic. Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who is currently being tried for war crimes at The Hague court, and the late paramilitary leader Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic were also on that list.

Among the cases of alleged war crimes against Croats and other non-Serbs that the indictment cites is the murder in November 1991 of 264 Croatian prisoners of war whom Serbian forces took from a Vukovar hospital and shot dead at the Ovcara farm, about 5km south of the city. Hadzic also faces charges of involvement in the extermination or murder of hundreds of civilians, including women and elderly persons, in several villages in Eastern Slavonija.

The indictment also details an event on October 18th 1991, in which forces under Hadzic's command, members of the paramilitary Dusan Silni unit and Serbian troops, forced 50 Croat detainees to march into a minefield on the outskirts of the village of Lovas, about 20km southwest of Vukovar. Mine explosions or gunfire killed 21 of the detainees.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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