“The spirit of our endeavour is, To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”

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Can an international tribunal be a solution for the Ivanovic murder?

Zoran Čičak ● 27 October 2020
Thousand Days Later - Cicak
First Murderer: Where is thy conscience now?
Second Murderer: In the Duke of Gloucester’s purse.
First Murderer: So, when he opens his purse to give us our reward, thy conscience flies out.
Second Murderer: Let it go; there’s few or none will entertain it.

(William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of Richard the Third)

On Tuesday, the 16th of January 2018 Oliver Ivanovic, leader of a small Serbian political party in northern Kosovo, left his home as he did every morning, shortly after 8,00 local time. Kosovska Mitrovica (North Mitrovica – Mitrovicë) is not a big town, streets were still pretty empty, so a local policeman, Dragisa Markovic, noticed him approaching. More or less at the same time, Markovic also saw a green Opel Astra, with dark windows but without licence plates, slowly driving down the street. Under normal circumstances Markovic could or should have stopped the car and checked the driver; he would also have exchanged a few words with his neighbour. But on that particular morning, he did neither but entered a nearby shop instead.
A minute or so later, as Ivanovic was about to enter his offices, the Opel Astra stopped just behind him. The window opened and the co-driver fired six bullets into his back. Policeman Markovic left the shop and slowly walked to the crime scene: just in time to see the green vehicle disappearing and Ivanovic dying.
Exactly a thousand days after that grim morning, this case is still in the middle of nowhere: the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo, in early December 2019 filed an indictment against six persons (including policeman Markovic) as accomplices in this crime. It also named two controversial Serbian businessmen, Zvonko Veselinovic and Milan Radoicic – both with significant judicial files and suspected deep criminal links – as “organizers” of the murder. None of them is, however, available to the Institutions in Kosovo (IIK), so technically they could not be indicted – at this stage at least.
Furthermore, neither names of hitman and his driver, nor those of the masterminds are present in this document. The indictment also lacks a clear motive: it does vaguely say that the murder was political, but it fails to identify clear beneficiaries and establish their links with the local criminal network.
Ivanovic’s murder additionally complicated the political situation in Serbia proper: the opposition relied on the fact that media under the control of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, had been running a savage defamation campaign against the victim for months before the murder – including the brutal allegation that he was “an enemy of the Serbian people”. This logic clearly implied that the regime was somehow connected with this crime – independent media in the meantime, published a picture of the President’s brother, Andrej Vucic, sitting with Veselinovic at some private party, while Radoicic was seen as a guest attending one of the President’s addresses in parliament – but the hypothesis still lacks hard evidence to substantiate the claim. The fact is that in parliamentary and local elections Ivanovic ran with his own political party, refusing to yield to the logic of a single party representing Kosovo Serbs (Srpska Lista). He repeatedly lost elections.
On the other hand, the Serbian regime repeatedly accused certain Albanian politicians (most often Kadri Veseli, former UCK commander, chief of UKC intelligence and incumbent speaker of the IIK parliament) of masterminding Ivanovic’s murder and even named one former convicted Albanian (successively acquitted), Florim Ejupi, as the likely perpetrator.
Within two years that passed, this unresolved crime apparently became just one more in a long chain of events which eventually created two parallel realities, as far as anything in Kosovo is concerned: Albanian and Serbian. This context, of course, is the last one which helps in resolving any criminal case – especially now, when some suspects are being held by the IIK and some others were given shelter in Serbia.
An additional important problem was the timid approach of the international community: a lot of people in both the US and the EU somehow believed that – as long as Belgrade and Pristina might reach some political agreement – a low profile should be kept on this sensitive case: could the solution of this crime hamper chances for a political settlement?
Only in October 2019 did the US Embassy in Pristina issue an unusual and short statement that it is “important to see prosecutors and police partnering to advance the investigation of the murder of Oliver Ivanovic and taking action to provide justice for all citizens”.
However, that statement changed nothing: no EU envoy ever mentioned the need to resolve this crime; no single paragraph in the recent White House sponsored agreement between Belgrade and Pristina was devoted to it. Was Oliver Ivanovic a sort of Shakespearean victim, sacrificed to a holy “political agreement”? Was the implied amnesty for his murderers a small additional reward for negotiators? Why was this case so conveniently forgotten afterwards?
The Western Balkans, in general, is not a part of Europe too happy with its judiciaries. The EU put this statement of fact in a very straight manner, by referring to the region as a zone of “captured states” [https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2019/02/08/priebe-report-state-capture-western-balkans/] and it has sometimes been assumed that the EU does not push for a solution to politically sensitive cases, prioritising political stability instead.
On the other hand, as long as Ivanovic’s murder remains unresolved, the extremists on both sides will have a convenient scapegoat to avoid any real political engagement and, at the same time, a powerful instrument to intimidate ordinary people: “If we managed to murder a public figure like Ivanovic and walk away unpunished, imagine what we can do to any of you?
Is there any viable model to resolve this impasse? If history is life’s teacher (as Cicero argued twenty centuries ago), then here one does not need to go more than 15 years in the past. When Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was murdered in Beirut in 2005, the complexity of that crime, the involvement of persons close to the Syrian secret services and the exposure of Lebanese courts to different formal and informal intimidations, forced the international community to establish an international, UN-sponsored, tribunal with its head office in the Netherlands.
If the international community really wants to show its commitment to the rule of law, by resolving the crime which remains a dark shadow over the whole region, then the Lebanese experience needs to be repeated, this time in the Western Balkans.
An international tribunal, established under UN auspices, should be given the exclusive jurisdiction in the case of the Oliver Ivanovic’s murder. All ongoing investigations, both IIK and Serbian ones, should be merged under the control of an international team of investigators and prosecutors who would submit their findings to an international chamber. Both sides should hand over to the tribunal all relevant evidence, material and intelligence, together with all suspects – no matter whether Serbs or Albanians and whether in any political capacity, formal or informal. The side that does not comply should be exposed to UN sanctions.
An impartial, professional and efficient tribunal should be able to resolve this crime in twelve to twenty-four months. A lot of evidence already exists and all suspects are (so far at least) still alive; the witnesses as well. The failure of such an enterprise would be nothing more than just one in the long history of both the Balkans’ failures and the world’s failures in the Balkans; its success, however, might be a breakthrough and game changer – in more ways than one.

Zoran Čičak

Member of The Ohrid Group, Skopje; Foreign Policy Expert and Writer, Belgrade

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