Prof. Dr. Rasim Muratović (1956), PhD in Sociology, author of ten books and two radio-novels, who translated eleven books from the Norwegian to Bosnian language.
He has been a Director of the Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law of the Sarajevo University since 2014. He told Stav when the preparations for drafting the Application for Revision of the International Court of Justice Judgment from 2007 began, who the members of Expert team were. He also reminded of the relevance of the existing Judgment, and clarified why the Expert team opted for silence during the drafting of the Application.
STAV: What was the role of the Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law in drafting the Application for Revision of the International Court of Justcie (ICJ) Judgment in the case Bosnia and Herzegovina versus Serbia on the charge of genocide and when was the Institute involved?
MURATOVIĆ: The Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law of the Sarajevo University, as a state institution and a constituent of the University, had, along with the agent Softić, a key role, I do not want to say the principal role in this for the Institute the biggest, most extensive and most important project ever. The Institute worked on this project for 10 years, and intensively as of 28 November 2015, once I sent a letter to the President Izetbegović, after which under the leadership of the agent Softić, and in cooperation with the Office of the President Izetbegović, we intensified the activities related to the preparation of the Application for Revision of the 2007 Judgment. We contacted Prof. Dr. Sakib Softić, who in early 2016 sent the letter to more than 200 institutions, especially those which, by virtue of their business, were obliged to collect facts and evidence, to make a survey and deliver what they collected, believing that the Revision could be initiated based on them. Some time later, through the competent state authorities, we contacted the ICTY in The Hague and asked them to release the confidential documents and then deliver to us all the unredacted records, particularly the records from the 39th and 40th session of the Supreme Defense Council (SDC) of the FR Yugoslavia. In the same way, we contacted certain ministries in Serbia and Croatia asking them, in accordance with the Agreements on Cooperation, to deliver to us the documents we considered important in our activities.
After that, agent Prof. Dr. Softić, gathered the team, consisting of: Academic Prof. Dr. Smail Čekić, Prof. Dr. Kasim Trnka, Prof. Dr. Senadin Lavić, Prof. Dr. Zijad Hasić, Prof. Dr. Dževad Mahmutović, attorney Vasvija Vidović, attorney Asim Crnalić, General Mustafa Polutak, Amor Mašović, Enis Omerović M.A., and the team associates: Sabiha Subašić-Galijatović M.A., Hasan Nuhanović M.A., and Halisa Čengić. It was decided that the Expert team will operate from the Institute, and I, as a director of the Institute, was honored to coordinate the work of the team.
Based on the adopted action plan, the team had a task to adapt all the relevant pieces of scientifically proven evidence, collected by the Institute for years, to the legal theory and practice. The Institute adapted scientific findings to the requirements of the profession, that is, the requirements of international law. This team continued to work until the moment of filing the Application for Revision.
STAV: Application for Revision of the Judgment, dated 26 February 2007, was submitted on 23 February this year, and the ICJ Registrar informed the Presidency, already on 9 March that the Court would not even consider the Application. Were you surprised by such a quick reaction?
MURATOVIĆ: No, given everything that happened meanwhile. I will present here only some details. As soon as we began working, the intensive and coordinated activities by the representatives of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina started, and they visited high-ranking political and religious officials and tried to convince them not to proceed with the Revision. That was the first attempt to prevent us from filing the Application for Revision. The second was the PIC Decision, based on which all the member states, all but Turkey (which represents 66% of Muslim countries) were against us proceeding with the Revision. When did you hear or see that the USA, China, Russia, Germany, France do share the same political position…? Well, in this case against Bosnia, they did. The Court Registrar, before that, in May 2016, tried to reverse the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Decision, dated 4 October 2002, based on which Prof. Dr. Sakib Softić was appointed the Agent of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the case Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia. That was the third attempt to prevent us from filing the Application for Revision.
All of that suggested to us that this would not be a simple task. But, it never occurred to us to surrender in advance. None of us ever thought of raising the white flag and surrender without fight. We knew that we had against us not only Serbia, but also something that we colloquially name “international community”, which was, along with Serbia, deeply involved in the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of the 20th century. We do know what followed. They received the Application, read it, and once they saw what was in it, dismissed it “on procedural grounds”. But, not as it is attempted to present it in the public that Prof. Dr. Sakib Softić is not a legitimate agent, but due to the fact that Ivanić and Čović sent their letters expressing their disagreements with the filing of Application. So, their letters, not the Softić’s alleged illegitimate status are the reasons for dismissal of the Application for Revision. The reasons go, of course much deeper.
STAV: How did you take such an outcome in this event?
MURATOVIĆ: These are the reasons, which I mentioned, and a special study can be written about it. However, in this situation, I will quote a Norwegian Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who in his famous work Bak fiende bildet, translated in the Bosnian language as Paranoia of globalization, stated: “If the demands of Muslims and others for justice, recognition, and respect are taken with nothing else but high arrogance, the world will certainly, very soon, be on fire. The world, in which the capacity for listening those others became more important than ever”. The International Court of Justice did not want to listen to the Muslims from Bosnia, but it rather returned their application for justice with a false explanation that it is dismissed due to the procedural grounds, thus creating environment for mutual accusations and arguments, which at one point it nearly turned into schismogenesis.
But, it is not going to be that easy. I will quote once again Professor Eriksen: “Bosnia is 100% European country, with the predominant Muslim population, and in years and the events ahead of us, Bosnia will play one of the key roles”. The time will come when the “international community” will have to accept us as equal partner.
STAV: After the notification that the Application for Revision of the Judgment will not be considered, sent to the BiH Presidency, the International Court of Justice President announced that the BiH Agent in the case against Serbia, Sakib Softić, knew even in May last year that he does not have the legitimacy in this process of Revision. Did you, as the director of the Institute, involved in the preparation of Application for Revision, have the information that Softić, as they claim in the Court in The Hague, did not have the legitimacy to file the Application?
MURATOVIĆ: Of course that everyone on the team knew that and we did consider most seriously that matter in almost all of our meetings. The priority for us was drafting the Application, knowing the relevance and merits of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Decision dated 4 October 2002, based on which Prof. Dr. Softić was a legitimate agent. It became obvious that the Presidency Decision has never been reversed, or that someone else was appointed an Agent by any other Decision. You do not need to be a lawyer to know that no Registrar of any court can reverse the decision delivered by the highest organ of a state, which is a party to the dispute. Thus, as Professor Scheffer said: “there is no reason why Mr. Softić could not be a legitimate Agent, including in the situation in which Bosnia and Herzegovina seeks Revision”. The power of this argument could be the reason why the ICJ President failed to explicitly emphasize the mater of appointment, but he rather focused on the communications by the Presidency members. In the ICJ Statute, rules, and practice, Scheffer argues “there are no provisions which treat the Revision of the Judgment as a new case, which also requires new institutional decision for that case, and the Court should have allowed the parties to the proceedings to discuss that matter before the Court”.
STAV: Does it mean that the act of rejection by the International Court of Justice to consider the Bosnia and Herzegovina Application for Revision is the legal end to the matter of role of Serbia in the genocide, committed in our country, and what does it mean in relation to the 2007 Judgment?
MURATOVIĆ: Of course this is not an end, not even legally speaking. But, let me remind you of some of the most important facts from the 2007 Judgment: International Court of Justice has for the first time in its history determined the responsibility of a state for the violation of Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Thus, this Judgment has its historic value. The Court, while considering the matter of responsibility of the FR Yugoslavia for the genocide committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina found that the FR Yugoslavia Army participated in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Court found that there is ample evidence confirming the direct or indirect involvement of the official FR Yugoslavia Army in the military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In addition to the direct involvement of the FR Yugoslavia Army in the military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Court also found that the FR Yugoslavia provided significant military and financial support to Republika Srpska, without which it would not be able to carry out the most important military and paramilitary activities. (The entire Judgment is on the web page of the Institute)
What Bosnia failed to prove then, in the opinion of the Court, is that these crimes confirm the material elements (actus reus) of the genocide, committed with a specific intention (dolus specialis), and that the underlying acts of genocide “in and around Srebrenica” were attributed to the FRY, and that the FRY is responsible for them.
These are important facts, which as such, remain until the Doomsday, which should be remembered, and from which all our future activities should start.
STAV: The elements required for Revision of the Judgment by which Serbia was, ten years ago, found guilty of failure to prevent genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained in the shadow of the dispute related to the legitimacy of Sakib Softič. Whose support did you have in the quest for new facts, as one of the crucial elements for Revision?
MURATOVIĆ: We were not only looking for new facts, but rather the Application for Revision was drafted in a way to offer the ICJ an opportunity to review the evidence so as to rule whether the genocide was committed in the period 1992-1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and whether Serbia was responsible for that genocide. Let me quote once again Professor Scheffer: “History will not be benevolent when reviewing the International Court of Justice Judgment related to the dismissal of the Application”.
I still cannot speak about details surrounding the gathering of evidence. We had our people in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, and The Netherlands. The text of the application was written on three continents, in America, Europe, and Asia. It was written in seven cities: New York, London, Amsterdam, Ljubljana, Sarajevo (in several locations), Istanbul, and Amman (Jordan).
STAV: Who made that decision, and why was the public, throughout the period of preparations surrounding the Application for Revision, deprived of the information that there is a team working on the Application and that the team works intensively? Why this secrecy?
MURATOVIĆ: I have been working all my life the responsible state jobs. This is the most responsible job I have ever had in my life. We did not hide from the public and we did not try to conceal what we were doing. That was not a closed circle or the team of some extra patriots with the monopoly. Every well-intentioned individual, who wanted and could help, was welcome, and the invitation coming from Professor Softić in May 2016 was open for everyone. The way we worked and the attitude towards the public was not the matter of some extra patriotic reasons, but it was the matter of safety. Well, you work on the Application for Revision of the Judgment related to the gravest crime, the crime of genocide, and then you should inform the public daily on what you do. By this, you also inform the adversary party about what you did so far, which arguments you have for the next hearing, etc.!? Hundreds of journalists called me and I just opted for the principle not to make any statement. In that context, I can tell you about an interesting event. A journalist from a big TV outlet called me to be her guest in a TV show. I asked: “What shall we talk about?” And she replied: “We shall go quickly through the Application”. I asked her then: “Do you know what you have just asked me?” She was silent after that question, and I was quiet. So, from that moment until present day, I insisted on my “shameful silence”.
STAV: In the preparations of the Application, you involved different institutions, experts, politicians, individuals directly or indirectly involved in the work, and yet information related to the setting up of the team and the work on the Application were not disclosed to the public, despite enormous pressures exerted by individuals and media who kept advising on the deadline for filing the Application. How do you comment this?
MURATOVIĆ: It is simple, we agreed so in the team. We would begin and end every meeting with the reminder that we have to keep silent. The aim was to achieve best results and protect everything we did from the Respondent. It was a very serious job. And that was a huge responsibility.
Finally, the team was set up: David Scheffer (USA), Phon van den Biesen (The Netherlands), Alain Pellè (France), Paulo Polchetti (Italy), who finalized the wording of the Application, and who invested their respective scientific and human dignity and excellent diplomatic careers, and were also ready to enter the process before the International Court of Justice. I do not know what other state would be able to set up such a representative team?! Well, this is the reason why they dismissed our Application, along with the explanation that it is dismissed on the procedural grounds.
STAV: How can we interpret the fact that the reactions in Republika Srpska to the Revision of the Judgment were much stronger than in the Respondent state Serbia?
MURATOVIĆ: The Bosnian Serbs want to be bigger Serbs than the Serbs from Šumadija.
STAV: Public is not so much informed that the cases of genocide committed against Bosniacs during the aggression were also adjudicated in Germany, in addition to Bosnia and Herzegovina and The Hague, and those cases pertained to crimes committed in different parts of our country. Was that fact sufficiently used, and what does it mean that the cases of genocide, committed outside of Srebrenica, were also adjudicated?
MURATOVIĆ: That was exactly where our focus in the work was. At the beginning, we had a dilemma if we should focus only on Srebrenica or the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina. After difficult, bur rather constructive discussions, the prevailing option was the genocide committed against Bosniacs in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-1995, which is also the subject matter of the Judgments you referred to in your question.
STAV: Work on the Application is only one in the series of activities performed in the Institute. In addition to the organization of various scientific meetings, research projects, publication of papers and books, what are all the activities that the Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law is engaged with?
MURATOVIĆ: Institute is a scientific institution, and we deal with the scientific research of crimes against humanity and international law, including genocide, committed not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in the entire world. Yet, we always compare those crimes against the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of the 20th century. I have to tell you that we are often not able to find a theoretical model for the evil inflicted on Bosniacs for more than hundred years now.
STAV: Were the results of the Institute used in war crime cases, before our or international courts? Was the Institute on its own initiative filing reports or initiated lawsuits?
MURATOVIĆ: We cooperate in our daily work with the national courts and prosecutors’ offices. We regularly supply them with findings and evidence on the committed crimes. I do have a feeling that they are overburdened and that they cannot complete everything they have to do. Or, it could be something else. I do not know.
STAV: More than 130 publications, research books, conference proceedings, translations, only dozen in the last year, are some of the results of the Institute. However, it seems as if the public does not know much about it. Why is it so?
MURATOVIĆ: Still waters run deep. Institute has never been in a better position, with staff, substantively, and enjoyed better reputation here and in the world. The Council of the Institute has recently adopted a decision that we should soon organize a thematic session of the Council to discuss the improvements of our contents and method of work. Better days are coming to the Institute.
To that end, I would like to send a message to your readers. Heads up! We cannot be a nation without pride and defiance. Criminals like those, as they appear to be a challenge for them. We should learn a lesson from this in terms of strengthening of our self-confidence. Our strength and our self-confidence are the best protection from potential future genocides. We need to work diligently, be disciplined, hard working, useful for society. Founder of sociology, Abu Zaid ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhamed ibn Haldun al-Hadrami (1332-1406) said in his fundamental book, Muqaddimah: “Enemy will never attack a family and a tribe that stick together”. At the end, I would like to express my gratitude to all the employees of the Institute, all the members of the team, those who were in City Hall on 17 February 2017 at the counseling. That was not a “fraternity in City Hall”, that was the most dignified meeting of the representatives of genocide victims, prominent figures from political, religious, scientific, and cultural life, under the leadership of a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, Bakir Izetbegović, and Reis-ul-ulema Husein Kavazović, in which I was honored to attend and moderate.
They all unanimously supported the position of the Agent, Professor Dr. Softić and the teams that the requirements have been fulfilled to file the Application of Revision of the 2007 Judgment.
They will all remain my best friends, until the rest of my life. I am asking others not to take it against me for highlighting the role of Professor Dr. Sakib Softić. He is brave, bold, persistent, stable. The Agent of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been doing, since 2002, everything that none of the “famous figures” wanted or dared to do. We all in Bosnia and Herzegovina owe to him a big gratitude and respect.