The Mechanics of Plausible Deniability: The Case of Serbian Paramilitaries

4 apr 2019
Van 16:00 - 17:30uur

Lipsius Building (Leiden), room 2.28

Iva Vukušić (Utrecht University)

‘The Mechanics of Plausible Deniability: The Case of Serbian Paramilitaries’

The wars in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1999) resulted in the death and disappearance of 140 000 people, many of them civilians. Paramilitaries were the perpetrators of much of the violence. The regime of Serbian (and later Yugoslav) President Slobodan Milošević and its Ministry of Internal Affairs created and cooperated with units throughout the decade. These units fulfilled two main purposes: enhancing capacity to seize and hold territory through expelling civilians and creating distance necessary for plausible deniability. These units were there for the regime to outsource illegal, illegitimate violence and escape diplomatic pressure and criminal prosecution.


This presentation discusses the soon to be finalized PhD research, part of the NWO-funded project on paramilitaries, organized crime and the state led by Dr. Uğur Ümit Üngör. The research is primarily based on the extensive archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, collected during proceedings against 161 charged individuals, and during a quarter of a century of its operations. Among those charged were former president Milošević, but also Serbian State Security chief Jovica Stanišić and his trusted associate Franko Simatović. Their retrial is currently underway. During the seminar, the focus will be on key Serbian units such as the Red Berets, the Serbian Volunteer Guard and the Scorpions, and their relationships with the regime, and in particular the ways in which plausible deniability was created and maintained.


Iva Vukušić M.A., is currently finalizing her PhD at the History Department of Utrecht University, focusing on paramilitaries during the breakup of Yugoslavia. She is a researcher affiliated with NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, and a visiting fellow at King’s College London, War Studies Department. From 2009 to 2015 Iva worked for the Sense News Agency in The Hague, covering trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Before that, she was an analyst and researcher at the Special War Crimes Department of the State Prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo. Recent writings include an article about the Scorpions unit (in the Special Issue ‘Images and Collective Violence: Function, Use and Memory’,  Journal of Genocide Studies and Prevention, 2018), a chapter on the challenges of prosecuting paramilitary violence (in Perpetrators of International Crimes – Methodology, Theory and Evidence, Oxford University Press, 2019), and a chapter on justice options for Syria (in Conceptualizing Space, Transitional Justice & Human Rights, Indiana University Press, 2019).

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