Politics and Justice: The Outrageous Case of Jovan Divjak
It is time for Jovan Divjak to come home. For five long months, this hero and humanitarian has been unable to leave Vienna and return home to Sarajevo while Austrian courts sort out bogus Serbian accusations against him.
As they did with Ejup Ganic last year, nationalist Serbian politicians are abusing the international justice system to level baseless charges at an innocent man in an attempt to muddy up their own brutal history. As the English judge concluded in the almost identical Ganic case last year, the criminal allegations lack support and the evidence indicates that the Serbian prosecutor is politically motivated.
Unlike the true war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who hid for years inside Serbia and are now awaiting trial by an international court in The Hague, Mr. Divjak is a retired Bosnian army general who fought to save lives and protect Sarajevo from a brutal siege by Serb forces. He has worked to improve the lives of Bosnian citizens — Bosniak, Croat, and Serb alike — in the years since.
Yet he was arrested on a Serbian warrant at the Vienna airport in March. Since then, Mr. Divjak has been unable to leave Austria, even though Austrian officials have said repeatedly that they have no intention of handing him over for a Serbian show trial. There is no chance of a fair trial for him in Belgrade — and the Serbian authorities have no intention of giving him one.
Enough is enough. Austrian courts must show independent courage by once and for all rejecting Serbia’s claims — as London courts did last year with similar charges against Mr. Ganic — and allowing Mr. Divjak to return home. International courts have already investigated Serbia’s charges against Mr. Divjak and found them baseless. In fact, news video shows him desperately trying to stop the very killing Serbia accuses him of ordering.
Serbia, however, refuses to let go. Mr. Divjak is an ethnic Serb who defended Bosnia against Serbian aggression. Since retiring from the military, Mr. Divjak has made his home in Sarajevo and worked tirelessly to rebuild the city and create a future for its children. A hero in Bosnia, many Serbians have never forgiven Mr. Divjak for his alleged “indiscretions.”
The politics behind the Serbian arrest warrant are both internal and international. Within Serbia, the Belgrade prosecutor and the government would like a show trial against Mr. Divjak to take the focus off the real war crimes cases against Serbs that are now taking place in The Hague. Internationally, Bosnia is being pressured into signing an agreement with Serbia that would end the Divjak case, but in a way that would effectively grant amnesty to thousands of true Serbian war criminals. In fact, Serbia continues to pursue the charges against Mr. Divjak in the face of unified protests from across Europe in part because it wants leverage to push through this devil’s bargain.
Politics has no place in justice and Austrian courts cannot allow themselves to become accomplices in this nasty game. Courts exist to pursue justice, especially when politics would yield injustice.
The world turned a blind eye for too long to the sacking of Sarajevo. It must not now turn its back on the man who helped defend it against the perpetrators of mass atrocities and is now trying to rebuild it.
It is time for Jovan Divjak to come home.