The good news is, last week Serbia handed over a fellow named Zdravko Tolimir. Tolimir, a Bosnian Serb, was a top aide to wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic.
This is good news not only because Tolimir is a wrong’un — he’s under indictment on counts of genocide, extermination, murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation, and was the third most wanted suspect after the two headliners, Karadzic and Mladic — but also because both Serbia and the Bosnian Serb Republic cooperated in getting him and handing him over. For Serbia, that’s the first evidence of real cooperation with the Hague since 2005. For Bosnia… well, it’s the first time the Serb Republic’s police have helped catch a war criminal, ever.
It may be because Serbia has a new government; or because they’re hoping to re-start talks with the EU (stalled for over a year now, because of that same lack of cooperation); or because they’re hoping to score points as the Kosovo issue comes up in the UN this month. Whatever he reason, it’s very welcome.
If only that were all the war criminal news this week. Unfortunately not. Just a day before Tolimir was picked up, convicted war criminal Radovan Stankovic escaped from prison.
This is bad in a variety of ways.
One, it’s bad because Stankovic is about as bad as they come. I don’t throw the word “evil” around lightly, but this guy ran a rape camp. He’s a sadistic thug, a rapist and torturer.
Two, it’s bad because Stankovic is likely to stay at large. He stayed on the run for six years already — a warrant was issued for his arrest in1996, but he wasn’t captured until 2002. And he has plenty of supporters… people who think he was unjustly persecuted, and who’ll applaud his escape as a triumph of Serb ingenuity and daring.
Three, it shows (again) that it’s folly to expect governments in the former Yugoslavia to punish their own. Stankovic’s escape was aided by his prison guards, who stood by idly — all nine of them — while Stankovic trotted into a waiting car. But it also looks like he had assistance, or at least passive support, from much higher up; the police response was sluggish, and there was a curious three-day delay before an international warrant was sought.
The Hague’s decision to transfer Stankovic back to Bosnia was bad enough. This was just deeply and obviously stupid. But letting him be transferred to Foca — a town in the Serb Republic of Bosnia, and the same place where he’d committed his crimes — was a piece of imbecility so profound as to baffle and enrage.
Note that Stankovic was the first convicted war criminal to be transferred back to Bosnia; and note further that it took him less than three months to escape. There are proposals to move other war criminals back to their home states. Let’s hope this shuts them down for a while.
Finally, it’s bad because Stankovic has repeatedly threatened the judge, the prosecutors, and the witnesses against him. The Bosnian government has already ordered protection for the judge and the prosecutors, but as far as I can tell nothing has been done for the witnesses.
Pause to think that one over. These women were taken from their families (who, in several cases, were promptly killed), beaten, tortured, and then turned into sex slaves. Somehow they found the courage to testify against their abuser. And just a few months after being sentenced, he escapes.
Radomir Stankovic is just 38 years old. If he stays at large, these women have been sentenced to a lifetime of looking over their shoulders.