Paramilitary units in Serbia

The outcome of the armed conflict in the former SFR Yugoslavia, between 1991 do 2001, is the violent death of 130 000 persons. Over 10 000 are still classified as missing. Serbia’s officials and institutions have, from the beginning of the armed conflict to this day, with very few exceptions, denied the involvement of the SFR and Serbian armed forces in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have also denied the existence of any war crimes on the territory of Serbia in relation to these armed conflicts.

As an antithesis to the practice of forgetting the atrocities of war, the platform strives to inform and educate about the existence of secret mass graves, concentration camps and torture, murders and persecution of minorities, forced mobilization, paramilitary units’ crimes, as well as the human rights breaches in the Presevo valley between 1991 to 2001. The platform does this through connecting court-determined facts, official data of state and international institutions, testimonies of witnesses, survivors and victims’ families, as well as public information gathered by civil society organizations in Serbia.

The platform was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. The content and opinions featured on the website are those of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, and may not reflect the official stance of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Reading time: 25 min

The first armed conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia started in June 1991 between the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and the Territorial Defence of Slovenia. The JNA was part of the armed forces of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and was responsible for protecting independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the social system of SFRY.1

Political changes in the country started when Slobodan Milošević was elected president of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1987. With the help of the League of Communists of Serbia, he managed to dismiss communist leaderships in the Autonomous Provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, as well as in Montenegro. Further, through the Constitutional amendments of 1989, he reduced the powers of the autonomous provinces. In this manner, he secured four safe votes in the Presidency of SFRY and was outvoting other republics regarding any issue. Dissatisfied with this situation, Slovenia and Croatia left the Presidency of SFRY. In the months to come, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Macedonia, would do the same. From that moment on, the SFRY Presidency became “rump”, gathering only the delegates from Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo.

After the ten-day war, the JNA withdrew from Slovenia. Conflicts in Croatia started as soon as in April 1991 and a couple of months later they intensified in the region of Eastern Slavonia. During the siege of Vukovar the JNA still existed, but its role changed. At the beginning of the conflict it deployed itself as a buffer zone separating the two sides, but since the summer of 1991, it openly sided with the Serbian forces in Croatia.2

The siege of Vukovar is also specific for the emergence of illegal paramilitary units from Serbia which were involved in mass human rights violations; they were also direct  of the crime in Ovčara.

Due to the conscription crisis which started in 1991, a large number of recruits refused to join the JNA for several reasons: it was not clear for whom the JNA was fighting, whether Serbia was in war at all; some simply did not want to fight the war under the five-pointed star; and the reinforcement by recruits from other republics was reduced.3 Slobodan Milošević used the opportunity to justify the presence of paramilitary units at the battlefield in Croatia at the meeting with the presidents of municipal assemblies of towns in Serbia on March 16 1991. He said on that occasion: “I ordered the conscription of the reserve police forces yesterday and, furthermore, the engagement and formation of new police forces, while the government has been tasked to prepare appropriate units which would keep us safe in any event, that is, be capable of defending the interests of our republic and indeed the interests of Serbs outside Serbia….”4 At the beginning of the war, those “appropriate units” mentioned by Milošević were the Kninjas under the command of Dragan Vasiljković and the Serb Volunteer Guard (Srpska dobrovoljačka garda) under the command of Željko Ražnatović Arkan. Also, some political parties such as the Serbian Radical Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement were sending their volunteers to the battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are not the only examples of paramilitary units. In late 1991 or early 1992, the unit Scorpions (Škorpioni) was formed which operated on the territory of Croatia and BH, while during the war in Kosovo they were integrated into the regular composition of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SAJ).

According to the United Nation’s Report for 1994, there were 55 paramilitary units from Serbia operating on the territory of former Yugoslavia.5

The Kninjas - “Jedinica”

After the conflict in Plitvice between the police forces of Krajina and Croatia, in which each side
lost one person, Dragan Vasiljković, known as Captain Dragan, together with Franko Simatović, at that time an operative of the State Security Service (SDB), headed from Belgrade to Knin.6
There, they met Milan Martić, leader of the Serbian police officers from Knin, who took them to the base of the Krajina police in the village of Golubić near Knin.7 Since late April or early May until July 1991, Milan Martić, Franko Simatović and Captain Dragan worked together on the establishment and operationalisation of the Training Centre in Golubić. During this period, Jovica Stanišić, head of the State Security Service (SDB), and Franko Simatović funded the training. Simatović was also providing the Centre with fuel, vehicles, supplies and equipment.8 This actually laid the foundation for the Special Operations Unit (JSO) which would be operational for the next twelve years under different names. The training in Golubić was military in character and included weapons training and ambush training, as well as how to handle war prisoners and civilians in an armed conflict. The training would last for approximately twenty days. The recruits were trained in the groups of 40 to 100 persons. A total of between 350 and 700 members of the Serbian Autonomous Region (SAO) of Krajina police and SAO Krajina Territorial Defence were trained in Golubić between April and August 1991. Those who had completed the training in Golubić would set up new units and train other people in SAO Krajina.9 Captain Dragan singled out 63 best men whom he later transferred to the Knin Fortress with the idea to continue working with them and make them into instructors who could subsequently train the entire armed forces of SAO Krajina.10

Kapetan Dragan; Photo: Imre Szabo

Captain Dragan and his unit operated in the region of SAO Krajina until August 1991. Up to that moment, they had several conflicts with Croatian police around Glina and Knin. Because of the conflict with Milan Babić, the then President of Krajina, in August 1991, Captain Dragan left the Republic of Srpska Krajina and returned to Serbia. In 2006 the Republic of Croatia brought charges against him for war crimes against civilian population, including torturing prisoners of war at the Knin Fortress and the murder of civilians in Glina and Bruška. 11

Serb Volunteer Guard (SDG - Srpska dobrovoljačka garda)

The links of Željko Ražnatović Arkan, commander of the Serb Volunteer Guard, with state security services date back to the time of Stane Dolanc, Federal Secretary for Internal Affairs in the 1980s, who introduced the practice of recruitment of persons convicted for serious crimes for the needs of the Service.12In late 1980s, Arkan was given a task by the State Security Service to put under control a group of supporters of the Red Star (Crvena zvezda) football club, whom Milošević used to stir up nationalism at the grandstands in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this way, he formed a supporters’ group of “Delije” which is still active in Serbia.13 He thus deserved a seat in the management of the Red Star football club, whose other member was Radmilo Bogdanović, at that time Minister of the Interior of Serbia.14

The Serb Volunteer Guard or “Arkan’s Tigers” was formed from the core of the Red Star supporters from Belgrade, at the Pokajnica Monastery on October 11 1990. It was set up by Željko Ražnatović Arkan and others, including Nebojša Ðorđević, Saša Pavlović, Nenad Marković and Dragan Petrović.15

The SDG appeared for the first time in Slavonia in June 1991, specifically in Tenja near Osijek, Croatia.16 In Erdut, a village in Croatia on the border with Serbia, they set up their headquarters. SDG co-operated closely with Andrija Biorčević, who was the commander of the JNA Novi Sad Corps.17After the fall of Vukovar in November 1991, the SDG officially became part of the Territorial Defence of the newly established Serbian Autonomous Region (SAO) of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and West Syrmia, while Željko Ražnatović was designated an advisor for national security of Goran Hadžić, President of the SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and West Syrmia. The SDG membership never exceeded 300 persons.18

After the warring in the Slavonia battlefield, the SDG transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it operated on the territories of Zvornik, Bijeljina and Brčko in the autumn of 1992.

Bijeljina was the first municipality in Bosnia and Herzegovina taken over by Bosnian Serbs in 1992. This take-over of power set a pattern later repeated in other municipalities in Northeast Bosnia and Herzegovina. First, paramilitary units or the so-called “volunteer units” from Serbia would come and start intimidating and terrorising local Bosniak population, as well as those Serbs who were considered “disloyal”. Many Bosniaks were killed. For that reason, many other Bosniaks eventually left this region. In the very town of Bijeljina, the first fights started on March 1992. Members of the Arkan’s paramilitary unit came to Bijeljina and, in co-operation with a local paramilitary group under the command of Mirko Blagojević, took over control of important town structures. On April 1 or April 2 1992, armed JNA reservists surrounded the town and rows of JNA tanks and other vehicles could be seen in the area. In spite of certain resistance, Serbian forces quickly took over control of Bijeljina as soon as April 4, Serbian flags were hoisted on the two mosques in town. Arkan’s people moved into the building of the local SDS19and for a few days, together with regular police patrols, were involved in arresting the members of SDA20Presidency in Bijeljina.21 

During the Serbian take-over of Bijeljina, members of Serbian paramilitary forces killed at least 48 civilians, the majority (45) of whom were non-Serbs and none of those victims wore uniforms.22

Immediately before the clash in Zvornik on April 8 1992, Marko Pavlović, General Savo Janković of the Tuzla Corps, and Colonel Tačić, met at the Jezero hotel in Mali Zvornik, to discuss a military take-over of Zvornik. The JNA, specifically a battalion of the 336 th motorised brigade under the command of Dragan Obrenović, which also participated in the take-over, provided tanks, artillery and mortars to Arkan’s people.23 On April 8 1992, or around that date, members of various Serbian forces – police, territorial defence, JNA and Arkan’s people – started an attack on Zvornik, which at least partially started from the territory of Serbia.

Numerous civilians were killed in the attack of April 8 1992, while many others left the town and headed towards Tuzla. Serbian forces took over the town of Zvornik in one day. Approximately 20 non-Serb civilians were killed in this attack.24

After the war ended in 1995, the Serb Volunteer Guard was disbanded. Ražnatović became more politically active since he founded the Party of Serbian Unity as early as in 1993. Also, he started numerous businesses in Serbia and bought a football club, “Obilić”.

After the disbanding of the SDG, part of the volunteers went over to the Special Operations Unit, while the others returned to crime.25

Željko Ražnatović was killed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Belgrade on January 15 2000. Direct executors are known, but neither the background of the murder nor who organised it and why have ever been clarified.

The public was informed that there was an indictment against Arkan in March 1999, but only after his death the content of the indictment was publicised. The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia charged him with crimes in Sanski Most committed in September 1995.26 

Scorpions (Škorpioni)

During the siege of Vukovar which started in the summer of 1991, a large number of volunteers from Serbia came to Eastern Slavonia to fight. One of the volunteers was Slobodan Medić Boca from Šid who, together with his brother Aleksandar Medić, headed to Vukovar.27Together with their friends from Šid, they founded the “Scorpions” in late 1991 or early 1992.28This unit was stationed in the village of Đeletovci, Nijemci municipality, which is the location of oil wells and oil fields.29 Their task was to secure the oil fields and the borders of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska Krajina. The exploitation of oil from Đeletovci and the oak wood from nearby villages primarily served for making enormous profits in favour of the state of Serbia. The entire turnover was controlled by the State Security Service, led by Stanišić and Simatović; they were taking large portions of the profits for government purposes and next in the line was Željko Ražnatović Arkan.30 

The Scorpions had a command and two troops; the entire unit had between two hundred and four hundred persons. Their weapons, uniforms, equipment and wages were provided by the Gas Industry of the Republic of Srpska Krajina.31

In June and July of 1995, Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović sent the Scorpions and the SDG, commanded by Vasilije Mijović, State Security Service’s official, to the region around Trnovo and in Treskavica, to carry out joint actions with the members of the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Bosnian Serbs and the Republic of Srpska Army, where the Scorpions committed crimes.32 

On July 17 1995, in the village of Trnovo near Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Scorpions shot six Bosniak men who had been captured only a few days earlier during Republic of Srpska Army’s attack on the UN protected zone of Srebrenica. These murders were recorded on a video tape which was found at a video club in Šid in 2005. This recording was presented at Slobodan Milošević’s trial.

After the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and the signing of the Agreement of Erdut between Croatia and FRY delegates, by which Croatia wanted to return its territories and Serbia consented to it in exchange for the guarantees of all human and minority rights of Serbs who stayed there, the Scorpions were left without their job of securing the oil fields in Đeletovci. They were not considered to be members of the Serbian Army of Krajina. The unit managed to survive outside the war campaign, and after 1995 it was integrated into the reserve of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit of the Serbian Interior Ministry.33  

With the beginning of NATO intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in March 1999, the Scorpions were sent to Kosovo. On March 28 in Podujevo, they entered the first Albanian house and killed fourteen Albanian civilians, including women and children. Only five children survived.

Serbian Radical Party (SRS)

The beginning of disintegration of Yugoslavia also meant an expansion of nationalist ideas in all SFRY republics. Hence, a far-right Serbian Radical Party emerged in Serbia with its leader Vojislav Šešelj.

In early 1990s, Vojislav Šešelj stood out first as the president of the Serbian Liberation Movement, a marginal political organisation advocating the idea that all Serbs should live in one state.34 This organisation was very anti-communist and aimed to “restore national, spiritual, cultural, economic and political unity of Serbs, for full mutual understanding and solidarity of Serbs believers and Serbs atheists, for brotherly harmony of Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Serbs, Catholic Serbs and Protestant Serbs.”35

Although small, this organisation did not last long. In March 1990, many members defected to the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), founded jointly by Vuk Drašković and Vojislav Šešelj. A few months after setting up the SPO, in June 1990, the party divided because of internal conflicts. One fraction, led by Vojislav Šešelj, founded a new organisation – Serbian Chetnik Movement.36 Their programme clearly specifies the lands that should be included in the territory of Greater Serbia: the whole territory of today’s Serbia and Kosovo with western border along the line Karlovac-Karlobag-Ogulin-Virovitica.37Everyday hate speech aimed at national minorities, especially Croats, brought great popularity to Vojislav Šešelj in Serbia. At the presidential election in Serbia in December 1990, he ranked fifth with a bit over 96 thousand votes.38 

Vojislav Seselj in Novi Sad, 02 December 1993. Photo: EPA/MILOS VUKADINOVIC

As soon as February 23 1991, the Serbian Chetnik Movement united with a large number of local committees of the People’s Radical Party led by Tomislav Nikolić and formed the Serbian Radical Party. Its programme was identical to the programme of the Serbian Chetnik Movement. The first point of that programme implied “the restoration of free, independent and democratic state in the Balkans which would include the whole of Serbianity, all Serb lands, meaning that, besides current “octroic” Serbian federal unit, it would also include Serbian Macedonia, Serbian Montenegro, Serbian Bosnia, Serbian Herzegovina, Serbian Dubrovnik, Serbian Dalmatia, Serbian Lika, Serbian Kordun, Serbian Banija, Serbian Slavonia and Serbian Baranja.”39The goals proclaimed in the programme could not have been attained without massive violations of human rights.

The Serbian Radical Party established a Crisis Headquarters with Ljubiša Petković as its head, with the task “to help and protect Serbs wherever they are in danger”.40Two days after the “rump” Presidency of SFRY established that there was “direct war danger on the territory of SFRY”, on October 3 1991, the Crisis Headquarters became the War Headquarters and Vojislav Šešelj removed Ljubiša Petković from this position as it turned out that he was “an agent of the Serbian State Security Service”.41

The first conflicts on the territory of Eastern Slavonia, specifically in Borovo Selo, occurred in May 1991. Serbian Radical Party’s volunteers participated in this conflict. They came to the battlefield in Slavonia after being recruited through local committees in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. They came to the Slavonia battlefield with silent consent of the authorities of the Republic of Serbia. They were called “chetniks” or “Šešelj’s men”.42 42 In the majority of cases, they were part of the existing Territorial Defence structures.

In the statements he was giving to local and foreign media, Vojislav Šešelj was saying that SRS volunteers acted completely independently.43 However, he would occasionally make statements which indicated that he had direct links with the volunteers as he was visiting these units at the battlefield.44On the other hand, Ljubiša Petković, head of the War Headquarters, had very close relations with Ljubomir Domazetović, at that time head of the Third Administration of the General Staff of the SFRY Armed Forces.45Also, the SRS Crisis Headquarters had close links with the Commander of the JNA Novi Sad Corps Andrija Biorčević.

SRS volunteers received their training at the military barracks in Bubanj Potok, the “4 th July” military barracks (Voždovac) and the “Marshal Tito” military barracks (Topčider), as well as at the Training Centre in Prigrevica (near Apatin). The training was managed by Jovo Ostojić, close associate of Vojislav Šešelj and member of the Serbian Radical Party.46At the military barracks in Bubanj Potok, volunteers were given uniforms, weapons and ammunition. Although SRS volunteers were integrated into the units of the local Serbian Territorial Defence and were under JNA command, as demonstrated in the documentation relating to the operations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, statements made by SRS volunteers show that the SRS War Headquarters were issuing orders to them in some cases and exchanging operational information about participation in the battlefield.47 Besides Borovo Selo, members of these units in Croatia were involved in the battles in Tenja, Silaš, Voćin, Vukovar, where they committed war crimes. In Vukovar, they operated within and under command of two local Serbian Territorial Defence units – Petrova Gora and Leva Supoderica, which were subordinated to the JNA until November 21 1991 (murder of Croatian prisoners in Ovčara).48

In 1991, on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the JNA was involved in the take-over of municipalities with Serb majority. SRS volunteers from Serbia, as well as local SRS members, together with other paramilitary units from Serbia, participated in the take-over of Zvornik, Bijeljina, Bosanski Šamac and Brčko. In each of these municipalities, crimes against civilian population were committed. 

Victims’ Voices

Alma Pečković, daughter of Ajša Šabanović, murdered in Bijeljina on April 2 1992, described those days to the Danas daily on January 14 2016: “In the meantime, on that April 2, a proclamation was aired on Radio Bijeljina that all local communities should organise the collection of all weapons and that it should be handed over to the police. There were three hunting rifles and two pistols with regular permits in our street. We collected that, and my husband decided, together with two other guys from the street, to go to the police by car carrying a white flag and hand them out. My husband told me later that he did that so that he could meet someone in the police and check the information he had received… he went there and really, they gave him two police officers and a vehicle to sit and go to the spot and check the information because allegedly they were also not sure and they did not know. When he arrived to the spot in the police car and with two police officers who were decent, he made sure that it was my mother lying on the pavement in a white sweater which he recognised, and a man in a leather jacket whom he also recognised, it was Abdurahman Pajazit, owner of the burek bakery next to my parents’ house. My husband did not recognise the third female person who was lying in the same place, it was Abdurahman’s wife, we would find out later… When he came to the police again, a certain Pero Simić waited for him there, a journalist, who asked for an interview or to make an announcement via Radio Bijeljina saying that everything was allegedly safe and clean in Bijeljina. He managed to avoid that interview, he does not even remember how, and returned home all shaken and terrified… Right after his arrival we took off to the military barracks, and some neighbours from our street spontaneously followed us, thinking, as they knew that my husband worked there, that if they were there, they might be a bit more protected. We somehow managed to get to the military barracks, and there we were stopped by masked civilians, armed to their teeth, members of the Serbian Radical Party, wearing caps with Serbian cocarde. They didn’t harass us very much, they only cursed at us and told us to return back where we came from. We didn’t have a choice but to go back. On the way back, we were stopped by our family friend Mire Hanušić who took us to his place to avoid further danger because our house was 2 kilometres away. We accepted that and stayed at his place until Sunday April 5.

In the meantime, another proclamation was aired on Radio Bijeljina saying that it was possible to go to the hospital and find and pick up those killed in alleged street fights there. My husband and I went first to my aunt’s who lived near my parents’ house. I had an especially strong fear and a bad feeling and I was repeatedly asking my husband if he knew something becausenobody was answering the phone in my parents’ house since Thursday morning. He was consoling me, at the same time preparing me for the worst, but he didn’t tell me anything. When I approached my aunt’s house, I think that I knew everything. I entered and only said: aunt, are they all… She was only able to sob and I knew everything… I don’t know what happened to me afterwards.

After that my husband went and picked them up in front of the morgue of the town hospital. They were lying there on the grass covered with white sheets, and according to my husband, there were thirty of them… A men from the funeral service happened to be there, he gave him plastic bags, and with the help of some friends who happened to be there searching for their dead, managed to pick them up and drive them to the family house where they were killed. He managed somehow to collect neighbours and some relatives and bury them at the nearby cemetery. There were so many of them that there were almost no enough people to carry the dead to their last resting place. He also told me that he almost couldn’t recognise my father because of the blows and injuries and that my brother was missing almost half of his head, most probably from a shot by a sniper. He was found in the yard of the mosque across our house, as well as our neighbour Muhamed… According to some survivors, there were a few more killed in the yard of our house, actually all the members of the Pajazit family and two workers.

The survivors from the basement of our house later told me that, while getting out, they saw a certain Mirko Simić, armed and with a Serbian cocarde on his head. He was standing on the pavement with two other members of the Chetnik movement. A certain Brano Šumar was also there, whom they recognised, and the rest of those involved in these horrifying and cruel murders were the members of the Serb Volunteer Guard – Arkan’s people.”49

Saranda, Fatos, Genc, Jehona and Lirie Bogujevci are the names of the five children who survived the crime in Podujevo with serious injuries. Following March 28 1999 and the murder of 14 members of their family, they were transferred to Pristhina for medical treatment and then to Manchester (UK).

The survivors of the Bogujevci family have shared their story publicly several times: “A police car stopped in front of our house. We left our home and moved deeper into the garden. After some time, the soldiers came and took us out. Father and uncle were not with us at that moment, they were hiding in the town, hoping that maybe we would be safe because only women and children were left. The soldiers took us to the next garden. The whole time they were cursing and shouting at us. They lined us all up in the street in front of the police station. The father of Enver Duriqi, in his 70s, was also with us. Then they brought us back to the garden and that’s when we saw my mother who was shot. There were children there, they were begging them not to hurt the children. However, they started shooting at us.”50

Vilim Karlović is one of the witnesses who testified at the trial of Vojislav Šešelj before ICTY. At one point during the siege of Vukovar, Karlović hid in the Vukovar hospital, thinking that he would be safest there. However, he was taken out of the hospital on the morning of November 20 and, together with around 300 Croatian soldiers and the wounded, was taken by bus to the JNA barracks, from where the majority of captives were transferred to the hangars at the Ovčara farm. There, he said, two lines of around 150 people were formed, beating the prisoners with their hands, legs, rifle butts and bars when they were entering the hangar. Karlović says that “chetniks” led the way, but JNA soldiers and members of the Territorial Defence were also there. While he was waiting to enter the hangar, the witness started talking with a certain JNA soldier who intoduced himself as “Štuka”. When it turned out that they had a mutual friend, the witness asked him whether he could help him somehow. Although he resisted at first, with the help of a JNA captain, “Štuka” took Karlović out of the hangar. “Štuka”’s real name is actually Spasoje Petković and at the Ovčara trial before the War Crimes Department in Belgrade he had the status of witness-collaborator. From Ovčara, Karlović was taken to the company Modatex, where he spent the night, only to be transferred to the Velepromet in the morning of November 21, where he was kept locked with another 20 Croats in the building called “Carpentry”. He recollected that on that day the chetniks took two middle-aged men and a 12 or 13 years old boy from the room and killed them. Karlović did not go into what unit the volunteers he called “chetniks” belonged to, other than describing that they were wearing Serbian old soldier caps, fur hats and cocardes and that he believed that they were recruited by the Serbian Radical Party. The witness said that in the evening of November 21, three “chetniks” took him from the Velepromet to the house in Vukovar suburb called Petrova Gora. There, 20 chetniks were awaiting; right away they started beating him and burning him with candles. The volunteers with nicknames “Belgija” and “Čeda” led the way in abusing the witness, while a certain Miljan or Smiljan broke a bottle on his head and used it to cut his body. During this whole time, there was a woman in the house who was talking “chetniks” into raping him, Karlović was not sure if her name was Daca or Jaca.51


Dragan Vasiljković, the commander of Kninjas, was sentenced in Croatia to the imprisonment of 13.5 years for war crimes against Croatian civilians and prisoners of war. He was found guilty of committing crimes at the Knin Fortress in June and July 1991, when imprisoned police officers and soldiers were abused, as well as of participating in the attack on a police station in Glina and surrounding villages in July 1991, when one civilian and one journalist were killed.52Having served his sentence, he was released from prison on March 28 2020.

Members of the Serb Volunteer Guard have never been prosecuted for their crimes in Bijeljina. Alma Pečković lodged criminal charges against NN persons to the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office in Serbia. Media reported that the man from the famous Ron Haviv’s photo showing a soldier kicking Ajša Šabanović who was lying dead on the pavement, is Srđan Golubović. He was arrested in Belgrade in 2012 for drug possession.

Four years after the crime in Podujevo, Saša Cvjetan, a member of the Scorpions, was put on trial before the District Court in Belgrade. The five children who survived testified. In 2005, Cvjetan was finally convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for participating in the murder of fourteen Albanian civilians and inflicting grievous bodily harm to five children.53

Although he never showed regret for the crimes he had committed, Saša Cvijetan was released on March 22 2018, having served two-thirds of his sentence.54

Other members of the Scorpions who were also involved in this crime, Željko Đukić, Dragan Medić and Dragan Borojević, were sentenced in 2010 before the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade to the imprisonment of twenty years each, while Miodrag Šolaja was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.55Dejan Demirović, who fled to Canada in 2001, was extradited to Serbia four years later and became a witness-collaborator in the above-mentioned proceedings.

The trial for the killing of 200 prisoners at the Ovčara farm near Vukovar, committed by the members of the Vukovar Territorial Defence and the volunteer unit “Leva Supoderica”, began in March 2004. The first first-instance judgment was passed in 2005, but was soon quashed. The new first-instance judgment in repeated proceedings was passed in 2009. The Court of Appeal rendered a final decision in 2010, sentencing some of the accused to the imprisonment ranging from 5 to 20 years and acquitting five persons. The Supreme Court of Cassation quashed the final judgment in 2014 and remitted the case to the Court of Appeal for another decision.56

In the last final judgment of the Court of Appeal rendered on November 24 2017 (the public was notified on January 12 2018), the first-instance judgment was confirmed with regard to Miroljub Vujović, Stanko Vujanović, Predrag Milojević (20 years) and Goran Mugoša (5 years); for Miroslav Đanković and Ivan Atanasijević, the sentence was reduced from 20 to 15 years’ imprisonment each and for Saša Radak to five years in prison. The sentence for Nada Kalaba was increased from nine to 11 years’ imprisonment. Milan Vojnović, Jovica Perić, Milan Lančužanin and Predrag Dragović, initially sentenced to 15, 13, six and five years respectively, were acquitted. Đorđe Šošić passed away during the proceedings before the Court of Appeal.57 

Vojislav Šešelj was tried before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia since 2003. He was acquitted in 2016 by first-instance judgment, but two years later, the Appellate Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) quashed this judgment and sentenced Šešelj to ten years’ imprisonment for forcible deportation and incitement of deportation of Croats from Vojvodina.58 


Twenty-five years after the war, the Serbian Radical Party still exists and operates. The programme calling on the creation of Greater Serbia has not changed.59After getting out of prison, Vojislav Šešelj continued his hate speech towards national minorities, especially Albanians and Croats. At the parliamentary elections in 2016, the Radicals won more than 300 thousand votes and just above 8 percent support of the citizens of Serbia.60 

Although convicted for war crimes, Vojislav Šešelj is still a member of parliament, which is contrary to the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, as provided by Article 88, that MP’s mandate shall be terminated if they “are convicted by final court decision to unsuspended prison sentence of at least six months.”61 Instead of an initiative to memorialise the murders and persecutions in Vojvodina, Vojislav Šešelj bought the land on the place of the crime and in 2018 the main assembly meeting of the Serbian Radical Party was held in Hrtkovci.

Crimes committed against Kosovo Albanians, which intensified in the period between March 24 and the end of May 1999 remain in the shadow of marking the anniversaries of the beginning of NATO intervention on March 24. Thus, Serbian state leadership does not remember the Bogujevci family today, although the Republic of Serbia admitted its responsibility for this crime through the judgment on compensation of damages in 2016.62In 2013, at the Cultural Centre of Belgrade, an exhibition in Hartefact production was opened under the title “Bogujevci/Visual history, homage to all families and victims of war”, jointly designed and carried out by Saranda, Fatos and Jehona Bogujevci.

The exhibition consists of four linked sections: a living room, a hospital, a family tree and a courtroom, and represents an attempt to tell the story about the massacre, suffering, recovery, but also a yearning for truth and justice. At the invitation of Nataša Kandić, founder of the Humanitarian Law Centre, the then commander of Special Anti-Terrorist Unit Spasoje Vulević and Doctor Dragan Marković, also SAJ member, who saved five children from Podujevo, came to the exhibition. The exhibition provoked numerous reactions in Serbia and was visited by Ivica Dačić, at that time Serbian Prime Minister.

Commemoration practices of the civil society, activists and victims’ families, such as street actions, exhibitions, proposals for installing traditional monuments, and the presentations of publications about the crimes committed by paramilitary units remain the only form of remembrance due to the monopoly of Serbia on the memorialisation of victims of wars during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This monopoly reflects most in the 2018 Law on War Memorials, which prohibits commemoration practices which are not in accordance with “liberation tradition of the Serbian people”. Consequently, crimes by paramilitary units are presented as individual incidents which Serbian officials distance themselves from today, but they refuse to admit responsibility for forming, supplying and controlling the units whose victims – apart from reparations in the Bogujevci case – do not have the right even to a symbolical or physical memorial nor compensation.