Detention and Disappearance of Ivan Stambolic
author: Nikola Barovic, lawyer for Ivan Stambolic
1. Political ties.
Detained on 25 August 2000 in Belgrade, Ivan Stambolic,
born 1936, was the last president of the Republic
of Serbia before Slobodan Milosevic and was overthrown
by Milosevic on 24 September 1987. Throughout the
war years, Stambolic as one of the most distinguished
political figures of former Yugoslavia maintained
constant and often very close relations with the highest
levels of political leadership in the former Yugoslav
republics: Kiro Gligorov, former president of Macedonia;
Milan Kucan, president of Slovenia; Milo Djukanovic,
president of the Republic of Montenegro; and Milorad
Dodik, former premier of Republika Srpska. Stipe Mesic,
president of Croatia, so respects Stambolic that he
made a special public appeal on his behalf. Stambolic
visited Sarajevo under siege in 1994 and established
good relations with Alija Izetbegovic. He was a respected
figure within the Serbian opposition to the Milosevic
2. Details of detention emerge.
Exactly one month before elections in the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), on the anniversary of
the party congress that brought Milosevic to power,
Stambolic was forcibly detained near his Belgrade
home. With the beginning of the FRY election campaign
in early August 2000, Stambolic's home was under sudden
surveillance by State Security, so obvious that neighbors
commented on it. However, until a press conference
by the head of State Security on 26 July 2001 (see
below), police repeatedly denied that any operatives
were present anywhere near Stambolic's home. The person
who witnessed Stambolic's kidnapping testified to
police and to the District Court of Belgrade that
those persons who detained Stambolic presented themselves
to the former Serbian president as police and forced
him at gunpoint into a white van. Stambolic's disappearance
was reported to the Belgrade police within a few hours
by his family. For five days, however, not a single
state-controlled or state-affiliated media outlet
mentioned that anything had happened to Stambolic.
(He is such a public figure that a vacation skiing
accident would normally have made the news -- and
his disappearance was immediate headline news in opposition
and independent media.) Only an actor that could ensure
state media silence could have detained Stambolic.
3. State media formulations.
On the sixth day after Stambolic's kidnapping, state
media finally reported the kidnapping, as well as
the existence of "frightened witnesses."
On the seventh day, state media reported that an unidentified
police officer said, "If someone wanted to kill
him, they would do so immediately." The Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR
FRY) and UN Special Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier inquired
in writing on 25 August 2000 with the FRY federal
government as to Stambolic's whereabouts. Commenting
on the speed of the inquiry, the FRY Minister for
Telecommunications and spokesperson for JUL, the political
party of Milosevic's wife, publicly accused Dienstbier
of complicity in and foreknowledge of the abduction.
4. Milosevic, D. Jankovic and R. Markovic.
Milosevic himself and officials of his government
took pains to suggest that Stambolic's kidnapping
was linked to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Just
a few days after Stambolic's detention, former Macedonian
president Kiro Gligorov asked Milosevic about Stambolic;
Milosevic told Gligorov that "international frontiers
are close by." On 2 October 2000, the Serbian
Minister of Justice and JUL confidant Dragoljub Jankovic
suddenly requested a meeting with OHCHR FRY and Dienstbier.
In that meeting, Jankovic raised the matter of Stambolic,
saying that he had an "intimate feeling"
that Stambolic "is alive in Bosnia, in Serbia...."
After the 5 October 2000 change of government in Belgrade,
Radomir Markovic, the Milosevic-era head of State
Security who remained as head of State Security until
the end of January 2001, continued to do what Milosevic
had begun in his exchange with Gligorov, including
in Markovic's conversation with the current FRY president,
Vojislav Kostunica. Markovic is currently under arrest,
indicted for the murder of four officials of the Serbian
Renewal Movement and participation in the assassination
attempt on party head Vuk Draskovic ("Ibarska
5. International and state engagement.
In September and early October 2000, Stambolic's lawyer
met on behalf of his client in Zagreb with Croatian
president Stipe Mesic, in Sarajevo with High Representative
Wolfgang Petritsch, and in Podgorica with Montenegrin
republic president Milo Djukanovic. Each official
noted that he would provide all possible support that
could help Stambolic. Many governments and international
organizations have made demarches, public appeals
and/or official inquiries on behalf of Stambolic.
Most recently, at its 11 June 2001 Luxembourg meeting,
the European Union General Council of Ministers concluded
that among "issues needing special attention"
were "three highly political cases (Curuvija,
Stambolic and Ibarska highway)". Others acting
publicly on behalf of Stambolic include the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights; the Council of Europe;
the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary
Robinson; the UN Working Group on Involuntary and
Enforced Disappearances; the UN Special Rapporteur
on human rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and
FRY, Mr. Jiri Dienstbier; and the Government of the
United States. Efforts on behalf of Stambolic were
also undertaken by Mr. Carl Bildt, UN Special Envoy
for the Balkans. During his September 2001 mission
to the FRY, Mr. Jose Cutiliero, the UN Commission
on Human Rights Special Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina
and the FRY, raised the Stambolic with FRY and Serbian
officials, including with the President of the FRY,
Dr. Vojislav Kostunica.
6. Public support.
The Committee for Release of Ivan Stambolic (the "Committee"),
formed in September 2000, includes prominent individuals
from Yugoslav public and political life. In addition
to its public information efforts, the Committee individually
addressed civilian and military authorities, seeking
information on Stambolic's fate and whereabouts, and
gathered thousands of signatures for his release.
Independent media in Serbia and Montenegro continue
to mount strong broadcast and print campaigns in support
of these efforts.
7. New Serbian government.
On 28 February 2001, Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic,
Serbian Minister of Justice Vladan Batic, and Serbian
Minister of Interior Dusan Mihajlovic convened to
meet with Stambolic's wife, Katica, members of the
Committee for Release of Ivan Stambolic, and Stambolic's
lawyer. At that meeting, the premier and ministers
reiterated positions earlier expressed in public that
one of the government's priorities was resolving the
Stambolic case, the assassination of editor Slavko
Curuvija and the Ibarska highway case.
8. Conduct of investigation.
On 5 September 2000, during the Milosevic regime,
the Belgrade District Prosecutor opened a case file
on Stambolic. That file did not come before a judge
to begin the investigation until December 2000. By
the end of February 2001, investigation in the Ibarska
highway case had revealed that State Security had
used a white van as a logistics vehicle. The description
of the van that emerged in the Ibarska highway case
was the same as the description of the van used to
detain Stambolic. In late February, Stambolic's lawyer
petitioned the investigative judge and prosecutor
to determine whether the descriptions in both cases
applied to the same van. It took the court until 15
June 2001 to comply with that request, and then the
routine cross-check was not conducted in the necessary
and complete manner. Since 15 June 2001, nothing further
has been brought before the investigative judge.
9. Statements by head of State Security.
On 26 July 2001, the current head of State Security,
Gen. Goran Petrovic, stated in a press conference
that "The hardest case is the disappearance of
Ivan Stambolic, the investigation is practically at
a standstill. All that is known is that some guys
took him away in a white van and nothing else."
He added that the former Serbian president was not
under surveillance in the same manner as Vuk Draskovic
or Slavko Curuvija and that the State Security operatives
observed at Stambolic's apartment building on the
day of his kidnapping were instead tailing members
of the Otpor movement. However, Stambolic's neighbors
maintain that the surveillance, which had lasted for
a month before Stambolic's disappearance, ended immediately
after his detention. At that press conference, Petrovic
drew attention to the existence of other power centers
in Serbia capable of carrying out Stambolic's disappearance.
On 27 August 2001, the Serbian Ministry of Interior
announced a 300,000 DEM award for information leading
to the arrest of individuals perpetrating or ordering
21 unresolved murders, including that of editor Slavko
Curuvija, and the disappearance of Stambolic.
11. "Ibarska highway."
The first court session in the "Ibarska highway"
case is scheduled for 11 October 2001. Testimony in
that case could shed light on who gave the orders
to commit all three crimes called "highly political"
by the European Union. It is recommended that monitors
attend that trial.
Bearing in mind the recent statements of the head
of State Security, it is important to note that an
operation such as the abduction of the former president
of Serbia could only have been carried out by police
officials, State Security officials, the personal
security details of government officials and their
families, or officials of the military.