On March 8, 2018, the Higher Court in Belgrade issued a decision to release Saša Cvjetan, a former member of the „Scorpions” police unit, sentenced to twenty years in prison for killing fourteen Albanian civilians in Podujevo in March 1999. He has served over two thirds of the sentence to which he was convicted. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) points out that, with the Higher Court granting Cvjetan’s request to be released early from prison, the sentence to which he was convicted for grave crimes committed against civilians loses its meaning, and the victims’ sufferings are being neglected.
On March 28, 1999, members of the Serbian police unit known as the “Scorpions”, among them Cvjetan, in the Gashi family yard in Podujevo shot fourteen Albanian civilians – seven children aged from two to fifteen, and seven women: Shpetim Bogujevci (10), Shpend Bogujevci (13), Sala Bogujevci (39), Nora Bogujevci (15), Shefkate Bogujevci (43), Shehide Bogujevci (67), Nefise Bogujevci Llugaliu (54), Fezdrije Llugialiu (21), Dafina Duriqi (9), Arber Duriqi (7), Mimoze Duriqi (4), Albin Duriqi (2), Fitnete Duriqi (36) and Isma Duriqi (69). Five children who survived the shooting suffered serious injuries – Saranda, Fatos, Jehona, Lirije and Genc Bogujevci.
On April 11 2018, the Appeals Chamber of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in The Hague passed sentence with its final verdict on the President of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Vojislav Šešelj, and reversed his acquittal by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Trial Chamber, sentencing him to 10 years of imprisonment for encouraging persecution (forced displacement), deportation, and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer), as crimes against humanity, and for committing persecutions in Hrtkovci in Vojvodina (violations of the right to security) as a crime against humanity. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) considers such a judgement significant, since in this way the victims of deportation and persecution in Hrtkovci almost 26 years ago have received judicial satisfaction; however, justice has only been partially satisfied, given the scope of the indictment against Šešelj, which encompasses the area of Sarajevo, as well as the municipalities of Zvornik, Nevesinje and Mostar in BiH, and Vukovar in Croatia.
On Monday, March 12, 2018, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) presented the Draft Prosecutorial Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2018-2023 (Draft), in accordance with the obligations of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National War Crimes Prosecution Strategy (National Strategy). The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) considers that the method of presenting the draft was not transparent, and that the draft strategy does not offer any solution to overcoming the key shortcomings in the previous work of the OWCP, and fails to determine adequate measures for achieving the primary goal the more efficient prosecution of war crimes.
The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and the Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo published in 2014 the list of individuals who died as a consequence of NATO bombing of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. According to this list, the NATO attacks killed a total of 754 people: 454 civilians and 300 members of the armed forces. 207 civilians were of Serbian and Montenegrin ethnicity, 219 were Albanian, 14 civilians were Roma, and 14 were of other nationalities. From among members of armed forces, a total of 274 members of the VJ/MUP of Serbia and 26 members of the KLA were killed.
On January 22, 2018, the Ministry of Justice published a working text that envisages amendments to the Constitution in the provisions governing the work of the judiciary. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) would like to point out that the proposed amendments to the Serbian Constitution reduce the currently attained level of independence of judges, as well as the autonomy of prosecutors, only to relocate the existing political influence on the judiciary from the National Assembly to the High Judicial Council, through the “distinguished lawyers” who constitute this body and independently have the majority in making decisions, as well as the authority to introduce institutes and institutions through which the executive power can directly exercise political influence on the election of judges and prosecutors. Bearing in mind the previous work of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) and of the Special Council of the Higher Court in Belgrade regarding war crimes, characterized by the small number of indictments, the non-processing of medium and high-ranking members of the army and police, the absence of political support for trials and the delays in proceedings, the HLC considers that the proposed amendments to the Constitution will only contribute to the continuation of such a manner of working, owing to political pressure, which is bound to come from the change in the composition of the High Judicial Council and of non-judicial bodies that would be receiving quasi-judicial powers.
On March 2 2018, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) submitted a criminal complaint against Svetozar Andrić, former commander of the Birač Brigade of the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), and later Chief of Staff of the VRS Drina Corps, to the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Serbia. The criminal complaint was filed for several crimes committed during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
On May 28, 1992, Svetozar Andrić ordered the “eviction” of the Bosniak population from Zvornik, as the then commander of the VRS Birač Brigade, in whose area of responsibility were the municipalities of Vlasenica and Zvornik, among others. This resulted in the departure of more than 10,000 Bosniaks to Mali Zvornik, Kalesija, and the villages of Snagovo and Kula Grad.
On Tuesday, February 27 2018, it will be 25 years since the crime in Štrpci, when members of the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), at the railway station in Štrpci (BiH), abducted 20 passengers from a train operating on the Belgrade-Bar route, and then killed them. They were all non-Serb civilians. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), Women in Black, the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, would like to remind the public that the families of the victims have been waiting for 25 years for judicial justice in Serbia and for recognition of the status of families of civilian victims of war.
Victims punished for unwillingness of State to prosecute those responsible for this crime
On February 18 2018, 25 years have passed since the Yugoslav Army (VJ)’s attack on the Sandžak village of Kukurovići. In this attack, almost the entire village was demolished, and three citizens of Bosniak nationality were killed. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Sandžak Committee) would like to draw attention to the fact that even 25 years after this crime against civilians – citizens of Serbia, nobody has been found responsible, and the state of Serbia has not provided the victims with adequate recognition and reparations.
On January 27, 2018, in Sarajevo, the Coalition for RECOM held the VIII Assembly Session, and afterwards, on January 28 and 29, 2018, the Eleventh Forum for Transitional Justice in post-Yugoslav Countries.
The Assembly Delegates welcomed the willingness of most leaders of the post-Yugoslav countries to sign the Agreement on the Establishment of RECOM within the framework of the Berlin Process, at the upcoming London Summit in July 2018, thus activating Article 49 of the Draft Statute of RECOM on undertaking preparations for the establishment of the Commission (RECOM).