Emotions flare as Republika Srpska announces it will financially assist the legal defence of accused war crimes suspect Mladic and others charged by The Hague tribunal.
By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 28/06/11
Relatives of Bosniak victims killed in Srebrenica display photographs of lost loved ones. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
The Republika Srpska government surprised many by announcing it would help finance Ratko Mladic's legal defence to the tune of 50,000 euros. The government said funds from the Foundation for Legal Assistance for War Criminal Suspects will be utilised, but in reality, it will have to divert funds from the budget paid for by taxpayers. This includes taxes from families who were victims of war crimes.
"This is serving as a direct message to those of us returning to our homes after the genocide, that we should not come back. We will not give up in our fight, and they should be ashamed for defending a butcher such as Mladic," Mothers of Srebrenica association President Hatidza Mehmedovic told SETimes.
Mehmedovic, a Bosniak, lost her husband and two sons during the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995, as well as many other male relatives. She returned to Srebrenica in 2003. Because Srebrenica is within the RS jurisdiction, part of Mehmedovic's income will be set aside for Mladic's legal defence.
"I don't know if anywhere else in the world a country finances its murderers, but this is exactly what is going to occur here. It is absurd that the victims have no rights. They have taken away all I had, only my sister and I are left, and now I am supposed to thank them," Safeta Muminovic, a victim of the Srebrenica massacre who lost all her male relatives, told SETimes.
Pantelija Curguz, president of a RS military organisation that helps families of those charged by The Hague tribunal and offers them financial assistance, exemplifies the attitude of many in RS.
"The resources are only symbolic and insufficient, but the greatest value lies in the fact that the RS government decided to get involved," Curguz told SETimes.
Curguz explains some politicians requested larger sums from the government, but were turned down.
Foundations to take care of the accused should swiftly be established, says Janko Velimirovic, director of the Republic War Crimes Research Centre. The centre is the only organisation assisting with collection of evidence and documentation needed at The Hague.
"It is high time to do something specific because we have been restricted until now in supporting those in need," Velimirovic told SETimes.
Mladic, who has not yet decided which attorney will defend him at The Hague, has the option of choosing an attorney provided by the Tribunal, in which case the estimated 2m-euro legal costs will be covered by the Tribunal, or he can opt to cover the costs himself and choose his own attorney.
Federation BiH political parties reacted bitterly to the RS government's move, saying it is the latest proof RS supports -- even identifies with -- criminals and extreme ideologies.
"This is not a well intended decision and does not contribute to the return of trust among people. The Hague tribunal is securing funds for defence of all of those who can prove that they cannot finance their own defence, making it unneccesary for RS to help anyone," politician Ramiz Salkic told SETimes.
High Representative Valentin Inzko also expressed worry and deep regret at the RS decision. While characterising the decision as pitiful, Inzko said it is a test of maturity on the part of the BiH political establishment.
"The money is of the taxpayers, but also of the mothers of Srebrenica. I cannot imagine an Austrian war criminal, a Nazi war criminal, receiving financial help from the Austrian government," Inzko said.