A United Nations tribunal on Thursday found two high-ranking Serbian intelligence chiefs not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1990s Balkans conflict.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled extant evidence failed to link Serbia's former secret police chief Jovica Stanisic, 62, and his deputy Franko Simatovic, 63, to Bosnian death squads that had brutally murdered thousands.
"The Chamber found that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused planned or ordered the crimes charged in the indictment," Dutch judge Alphons Orie said before ordering the men released.
War crimes had been committed and Stanisic had wanted to control "large areas of Croatia and Bosnia," the ruling stated. But in the end prosecutors failed to prove the accused directly responsible for paramilitary brigades that killed and forcibly deported non-Serb civilians.
"The majority could not conclude that... he (Stanisic) shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose of forcibly and permanently removing the majority of non-Serbs... through murder, deportation, forcible transfer and persecution," Orie said.
Both Stanisic and Simatovic served under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who, indicted for war crimes in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia, died in The Hague in 2006 before his trial concluded.
From 1991 until 1995, after Yugoslavia broke into separate states, approximately 100,000 people were killed with some 2.2 million displaced. To date, no government official from Belgrade has been convicted of war crimes.
"It seems that victims and the determination of the facts and truth have become ever less important for the Hague tribunal," Nidzara Ahmetasevic, a Bosnian war-crimes researcher, told Reuters.
About three months ago, The Hague acquitted of crimes against humanity Momcilo Perisic, ex-chief of the Yugoslav National Army, who had in 2011 been sentenced to 27 years in prison.
The ICTY says it has "indicted 161 persons for serious violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001," with 25 cases still ongoing.