The Bosnian Muslim Naser Oric has been cleared on appeal of crimes committed during the Balkan War. The Appeals Chamber of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia determined there was too little evidence to justify Oric's initial conviction.
In 2006, he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for failing to stop men under his command torturing and murdering Serbs in and around the enclave of Srebrenica. Since Oric had already spent three years in detention awaiting trial, he was released immediately. Both Oric and the prosecution appealed against the Tribunal - Oric because he continued to protest his innocence, and the prosecutors because they thought the sentence was too light. The chief prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte, had demanded 18 years.
Oric, now 41, expressed satisfaction with his acquittal. Speaking in The Hague, he said he regarded the Bosnian activities in Srebrenica as part of "the struggle to survive under a total occupation". He is one of the few Bosnian Muslims to have appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a UN court which Serbia has in the past repeatedly accused of bias.
In 2006, the ICTY judges found Oric not liable for his troops' destruction of about 50 villages with Serb majority populations in the vicinity of the enclave. Thousands of Serbs fled the region after their houses were razed, but Oric's defence team claimed he had no control over his troops. The judges also dropped several counts of pillage listed in the original indictment.
They decided on a lenient sentence because they found extenuating circumstances for the inexperienced commander, who was just starting out in his post at the age of 25. Naser Oric was the senior commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Srebrenica, from 1992 until the 1995 genocide in the Srebrenica enclave. Between 24 September 1992 and 20 March 1993, members of the military police under his command detained a number of Serbs in Srebrenica. The detainees were subjected to torture, serious abuse and injuries which in some cases resulted in death.
Appeals Judge Wolfgang Schomburg declared that "only vague and unconvincing" evidence was produced to establish Oric's responsibility. The judge believes Oric was "undoubtedly guilty", but in order to obtain a conviction it must be shown beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was responsible as an individual for the crimes of which he or she has been accused.
* RNW translation (imm)