International Criminal Tribunal For the Former Yugoslavia V. Tolimir

Using Video to Help Prove One Element of “How” a Crime Was Committed



Tribunal: International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
What Crimes: Genocide, Conspiracy to commit genocide, Extermination, Murder, Persecutions, Forcible transfer, Deportation
Who: Zdravko Tolimir, Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of the Bosnian Serb Army, reporting directly to General Ratko Mladić
How: Joint Criminal Enterprise. He and other Main Staff with the Army of the Republika Srpska mapped out, agreed to, and implemented a plan to forcibly remove Bosnian Muslims from areas that the UN had declared “safe areas” for civilians and to execute Muslim men and boys.


Beginning in 1991, the six republics of Yugoslavia—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia— began unraveling in a succession of increasingly tumultuous wars that continued until 2001. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was created to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by all sides in the Yugoslav wars. One of the incidents the ICTY investigated and brought to trial was the forced evictions and massacre at Srebrenica.

Zdravko Tolimir

Zdravko Tolimir

In July 1995, over 8,000 men and boys were massacred and between 25,000–30,000 women, girls, and elderly were forcibly moved from their homes around the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UN described this mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since World War II.

General Ratko Mladić and the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) stood accused of perpetrating the crimes at Srebrenica. Commander Zdravko Tolimir was part of this staff and one of Mladić’s most trusted allies.

To successfully prosecute Commander Tolimir for the massacres and evictions at Srbrenica, the prosecution had, in part, to prove that Tolimir was a member of the inner command circle that knowingly designed and assisted in carrying out a plan to eradicate the Bosnian Muslims. This element can be difficult for prosecutors to prove. As luck would have it, however, they were given help by a series of mundane video clips of speeches and meetings, one of which was filmed by a partygoer who unwittingly captured key evidence.


In non-legal terms, “joint criminal enterprise” refers to two or more people committing a crime by planning, organizing, or directing the perpetration of the crime, even if they do not directly participate in the crime’s execution.

At a New Year’s Eve party with senior leaders of the VRS, Commander Tolimir’s boss, General Mladić, gave a speech that was recorded on camera.

This clip shows General Mladić speaking into a microphone at the New Year’s Eve party. He is addressing other members of the military and invited guests. The transcript of the key parts of this speech are below.

Here are several quotes from his speech:

Ladies, dear guests, colleagues, officers and generals. General Gvero asked me to say a few words.

It was long ago, in 1992, a difficult year, when it was difficult to look at this area even on a map. Fortunately, there are witnesses. One of them is my wife, and several associates and comrades-in-arms….[B]ut I am saddened that the most important among them, General Tolimir and his wife are not with us tonight. As you know he is on assignment fighting the Serbian people in Vienna, battling the dragons of the world.

The most important decisions were made by a group of five people. This was the inner core of the Main Staff, which, in addition to myself, included General Milovanovic as my right hand man, Generals Ðukic, Gvero, and General Tolimir. This was the inner core.

From Bokganica, General Tolimir and Kucic fired on Ribioc….

I also want to thank the rest of my assistants and associates, General Dukic, General Gvero, General Tolimir.


This short clip does not show a crime in progress nor does it include any footage of the defendant, Commander Tolimir. The clip has little to no news value, whereas a clip showing Mladić and Tolimir participating in the execution of civilians would most certainly be shown on international news platforms. A video clip of a suspected war criminal giving a speech thanking his friends and colleagues isn’t something that captures the world’s attention.

But, when we talk about bringing high-level commanders to justice — especially those who sit many steps away from the actual commission of the crimes — lawyers must prove many di erent elements, both to establish that the underlying crime was committed, and that there’s enough of a connection between the commander and the underlying crime that the commander should be held responsible for its occurrence. While this mundane footage seems unremarkable to most people, it can be invaluable in a courtroom. In this case, the innocuous footage of a New Year’s Eve speech helped to prove that Tolimir actively participated in the military decision-making process. This, in turn, helped put Tolimir behind bars.


  1. Case Information Sheet, Zdravko Tolimir by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (PDF)
  2. Judgment in Prosecutor v. Tolimir by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (PDF)

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