Cuska - a “brave and patriotic” trial
By Radosa Milutinovic, Belgrade
January 18, 2012
It was a sign of changing times in Serbia at the end of December 2011, when
Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told journalists that an insider
witness testimony describing atrocities against Kosovo Albanian civilians
committed by Serb paramilitaries in 1999 constitutes a “brave and patriotic
act.” “It is patriotic to testify about the killings of women and children
and other horrors which he saw with his own eyes.
It is as patriotic as defend[ing] your fatherland,” Vekaric said. He was
referring to the account given by Zoran Raskovic during the high-profile trial
of members of the Jackals paramilitary unit that opened on December 20, 2010
before the Special War Crimes Chamber of Belgrade’s High court - which started
its work in 2003.
Twelve accused - two of them still at large - are charged with crimes against
ethnic Albanians in the village of
Cuska in western Kosovo, including the
killing of at least 44 civilians, rape, looting, and the burning of property.
The crimes were allegedly committed on May 14, 1999, during NATO’s bombing of
Serbia. After refusing the court’s protective measures, Raskovic - who was 20
years old and a member of the Jackals at the time, testified in gruesome detail
how his former comrades killed women, children and men in Cuska.
“Ranko Momic was the worst... He raped a pregnant Albanian woman before my own
eyes. He then shot her. Afterwards, Momic lit a cigarette and ordered me to set
a house on fire,” Raskovic told the court on December 26, amid loud protests
from both the accused and their supporters.
“We saw no terrorists”
The importance of Raskovic’s widely-reported testimony is hard to overstate in a
Serbia where predominant public opinion still has it that Serbian forces in
Kosovo fought a just war against Albanian KLA “terrorists,” helped by NATO
“aggressors.” “Nobody shot at us and we saw no terrorists,” Raskovic testified.
The Jackals case is not the first in Belgrade to be brought against Serbs for
crimes in Kosovo. In four previous cases, nine Serb perpetrators, including
policemen and members of the notorious Scorpions paramilitary - were sentenced
to a total of 165 years in prison for the massacres of Albanian civilians in
But the Cuska trial could turn out to be the most significant because of the
alleged aim of the Jackals’ operation. According to the indictment, their goal
was to “spread fear among the Albanian population and to force it to leave
Kosovo for Albania.” This charge implicitly places the Jackals as direct
perpetrators, within a joint criminal enterprise aimed at persecuting hundreds
of thousands of Albanian civilians outside Kosovo. That mirrors the main
prosecution strategy in cases against high-ranking Serbian officials such as
Sainovic and Djordjevic at the ICTY.
To date, six of them have received long prison sentences (15 to 27 years) for
conceiving and implementing such a criminal enterprise under the leadership of
Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 near the end of his trial at The Hague.
Cuska and Belgrade’s other trials also illustrate the need for regional
cooperation in prosecuting war crimes. Deputy prosecutor Vekaric says Serbian
prosecutors have so far exchanged information and evidence in only 19 war crimes
cases over eight years, with Kosovo’s “provisional authorities.”
Many non-Serb victims and witnesses, especially from Kosovo, have testified in
Belgrade, thanks largely to the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), an NGO which has
gathered dossiers on crimes in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. So far, Special
Chamber sentenced 48 Serb perpetrators to a total of 545 years in prison for war
crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and one Albanian to 13 years.
The HLC - headed by renowned human rights activist Natasa Kandic - is also the
harshest critic of Belgrade’s war crimes prosecutors. The Centre claims that
indictments are “selective” - limited to direct perpetrators and not aimed high
enough at the military and police chain of command. Responding angrily last
November to that charge, prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic claimed Kandic was
“biased” and “self-interested to prove, without any valid evidence, that our
state is responsible for all the crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and
Kosovo, not the perpetrators who are being prosecuted.” This dispute between
one-time allies illustrates the enormity of the challenges that war crimes
prosecutors and judges in Belgrade still face - eight years after they started