War crimes apologies could help reconciliation

26/02/2013

The unexpected apology of a former Yugoslav Army general for war crimes may help the Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation process.

By Safet Kabashaj and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 26/02/13

photo

General Dragoljub Ojdanic (centre) initially pleaded not guilty to allegations of war crimes in 2002 at The Hague tribunal, but admitted guilt in 2013. [AFP]

Serbia's human rights authorities said former Serbian General Dragoljub Ojdanic's apology to the victims of his conduct against Kosovo Albanians in 1999 is an important gesture.

"This apology to the victims is important and significant for the reconciliation process," Sonja Biserko, director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade, told SETimes.

Ojdanic, the former Yugoslav Army chief of staff, admitted his involvement in war crimes against Kosovo Albanians in the early 1999, stating his "full acceptance of all findings in the judgment" in his conduct, conviction and sentence, and expressed "regret for the suffering" endured by victims as a result of the conduct for which he was convicted.

Ojdanic withdrew his appeal against the ICTY trial judgment last month in The Hague.

Family members of the Kosovo war victims initially questioned Ojdanic's decision -- some accepted the apology, but others have mixed feelings.

"For me and my colleagues, Ojdanic's confession is a sign of respect, and a relief," Haki Kasumi, head of the association's board for missing Albanians, told SETimes.

Ojdanic's confession is a small relief for Bajram Duraj from Prizren, whose father was killed in March 1999.

"It's a bit of reinforcement for us in that someone responsible for our loss and pain finally admits guilt," Duraj told SETimes.

"Admitting guilt has an enormous meaning, because it removes the dilemma over the crimes committed," said Ramadan Morina, whose brother was captured by Serbian paramilitaries in April 1999 and discovered in a mass grave after the armed conflict. Morina was unhappy that Ojdanic was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but added that even a 100-year sentence for him would not take away their pain.

"Maybe finding and sentencing those directly responsible for the death of my brother would be different," Morina said.

No one was ever charged or arrested for the death of his brother. Morina said.

Some Serbian officials criticised Ojdanic's decision.

"This is Ojdanic's personal act and his settling with those who judge him. But, this is bad for Serbia since Serbia was defending itself and its territorial integrity at the time, and Ojdanic now disavows it in his favor," Marko Jaksic, Serbian parliament MP, told SETimes.

After Ojdanic's confession, the Kosovo government is expecting further positive reaction from the Serbian government.

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"Ojdanic's confession is an admission of a mistake, which should be a reason enough for the state of Serbia to also plead guilty, because he [Ojdanic] acted on behalf of the state of Serbia," Hajredin Kuci, Kosovo deputy prime minister, told SETimes.

Admitting guilt is not common at The Hague tribunal. Out of 161 accused in the war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, only 20 pleaded guilty to war crime charges.

"Nearly in all such cases, crime facts were established and made public, and the suffering victims recognised," Magdalena Spalinska, tribunal spokesperson for registry and chambers, told SETimes.

"The guiltiest pleas were accompanied by statements of the accused in which they often underline hope that their acknowledgment of guilt will contribute to reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia," Spalinska added.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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