They're facing trial, but they're not going poor.
By Rod Nordland
July 25 issue - In the Balkans, war crime pays. This year, a record 20 accused war criminals have been turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, compared with only three in 2004. But NATO troops didn't nab these fugitives in daring dawn raids. Negotiators did much of the work, offering generous financial incentives. "Everybody here in Serbia believes the government gives big money to indictees," says Natasa Kandic, head of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. "If you want to go to The Hague, you'll be rewarded and your family will have a very good life."
Some of the incentives are legally mandated. Serbia passed legislation last year to provide pensions to its indicted war criminals. The law gives indictees a full salary, plus unspecified "compensation" for family and legal expenses. In the Republic of Srpska, the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, benefits are even more generous: a full salary to the indictee himself, a double salary paid to his family, plus 80 euro a month to each of his school-age children. (A typical Bosnian Serbian salary is only 200 euro a month.) Family members also get four expense-paid trips a year to The Hague to visit indicted loved ones. And last year Srpska added a cash bonus of 25,000 euro for anyone who surrenders.
Still more generous inducements are offered to the really big fish. According to Serbian media reports, Gen. Vujadin Popovic got a bonus of $1 million when he turned himself on April 14. Popovic was the commander of the Drina Corps in Bosnia, which conducted some of the worst ethnic-cleansing campaigns in the region. Serbian government officials have told human-rights activists that Gen. Ratko Mladic, the accused architect of the Srebrenica massacre, was offered $5 million to turn himself in, although in the end he decided to stay on the run. (The U.S. government still has a $5 million reward for his capture.)
Why the largesse? Serbia desperately wants to begin talks to join the European Union, but progress on turning in war criminals is a precondition. Reports that generals like Mladic were living openly in Belgrade did not sit well with the Europeans; Mladic's family even drew his state pension on his behalf until last year. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has publicly supported indicted war criminals, but his coalition partners want to see progress on EU accession. So when Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic, wanted for war crimes in Kosovo, turned himself in last January, he was praised by Kostunica as a patriot and received by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. In Nis, the mayor gave Lazarevic a new car for his family at a ceremony attended by government ministers.
Part of the reason the international community created the war-crimes tribunal was to show that atrocities would be punished rather than rewarded. Instead, "we celebrate our war criminals as heroes," says Branko Todorovic, of the Helsinki Committee in the Republic of Srpska. James Lyon, director of the International Crisis Group in Belgrade, fumes that "the government of Serbia has made financial arrangements for war criminals, but has yet to make any legal provision to take care of the victims of these crimes... It's morally reprehensible." Last week some 30,000 Muslim refugees returned to Srebrenica for the 10th anniversary of that massacre, where 7,800 men and boys were captured and executed by Serb forces. For the first time, Serbia's president attended, though his government has yet to apologize for its role in the massacres. Many of the Muslims there booed him. As long as the Serbs are rewarding their indicted war criminals with handsome pension plans, reconciliation remains a long way off.
With Zoran Cirjakovic in Belgrade
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.