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International Criminal Tribunal Fiasco 
The Scandalous Treatment of Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic 

By Dr. Kosta Cavoski.

Professor Kosta Cavoski, an eminent Yugoslav law scholar, holds Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has taught at Theory of Law at University of Belgrade. 

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No less disgraceful was the performance of The Hague Tribunal in the case of Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic. When Richard Goldstone officially sought the extradition of this high ranking Serbian officer, he explicitly stated that evidence against him "had enough substance to initiate investigation" (7). On Krsmanovic's transfer to The Hague on 14 February 1996, he once again stated that Krsmanovic was "suspected of having committed serious violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict in former Yugoslavia".

Not even two weeks had passed before Richard Goldstone changed the status of Krsmanovic from suspect to witness in the hope of persuading him to "testify" against his superiors. To this aim he used blackmail, informing Krsmanovic that if he refused to "cooperate" he could be returned to the Muslim prison in Sarajevo. Sure of his own innocence, Krsmanovic did not give in thereby facing Richard Goldstone and the members of the Trial Chamber with a difficult choice: to let him go free, thus admitting their own defeat, or to disregard their own rules in order to carry out their threat of handing Krsmanovic over to Muslim Sarajevo. The fact that they held no evidence of his guilt, in spite of their tireless efforts to find some, required them to free Krsmanovic unconditionally, thus confirming his innocence. This is set out by the well-known legal principle non- bis-in-idem which does not allow the same act to be brought to trial twice. Article 10 of the International Tribunal Statute of 26 May 1993 clearly states that "no person shall be tried before a national court for acts constituting serious violations of international humanitarian law under the present Statute, for which he or she has already been tried by the International Tribunal". Since Krsmanovic was brought to The Hague as a suspect as soon as criminal proceedings were begun by the International Tribunal withdrawal of the charges meant that the case was closed. It also meant that Krsmanovic could not be tried for the same crime by any national court, including the High Court of Muslim Sarajevo. In short following Richard Goldstone's decision to withdraw the charges, Colonel Krsmanovic should have been set free.

Instead of this, The Hague Tribunal broke the inviolable principle of non-bis-in-idem, and returned Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic by leased aircraft to preventive detention in Muslim Sarajevo. Encouraged by this act on the part of The Hague Tribunal Muslim judge Izet Bazdarevic immediately announced that investigation against Krsmanovic would be continued in order to prove "whether the Colonel was guilty of crimes". (8) In answer to the objection that the proceedings had been carried out and finalized by The Hague Tribunal, judge Bazdarevic confidently added: "We have our laws, and The Hague has its own".(9) The investigation against Colonel Krsmanovic were even extended on the ground that he had participated in crimes against prisoners of war in the area of his birthplace, Sokolac.

Had the Tribunal acted in accordance with its own Rules of Procedure and Evidence (Rule 13) it would have had to immediately send a reasoned order to the authorities of the Muslim-Croat Federation and High Court in Sarajevo requesting the court to permanently discontinue its proceedings against Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic. Nevertheless, it remained silent. In this manner it tacitly validated the lawlessness in Muslim Sarajevo. As a result the case ended in the same disgraceful way it began. On 21 April 1996 Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic was exchanged as a prisoner of war for Muslim prisoners of war captured by the Republika Srpska army. Thus it would seem that Colonel Krsmanovic was kidnapped after the official end of the war as a civilian in order to serve as a hostage thereby forcing the release of several Muslim soldiers that were captured during the war, all under the guise of an exchange of prisoners of war. By breaking its own Rules, whether it wanted to or not, The Hague Tribunal participated in a war crime,i.e. in covering up the taking of hostages. 


(7) Nasa Borba, 9 February 1996.

(8) Nasa Borba, 5 April 1996, according to a Beta/AFP report


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Last revised: April 11, 1997