Regional Judicial Cooperation in the Prosecution of War Crimes: Analysis and Improvement Recommendations

Regional Judicial Cooperation in the Prosecution of War Crimes: Analysis and Improvement Recommendations

analiza-enIn consequence of the cross-border nature of the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, victims, witnesses, perpetrators and evidence are not for the most part located within the territory of a single state and do not fall within the competence of a single national judiciary. Additionally, due to the fact that almost all former Yugoslavia successor states ban the extradition of their own nationals to face trial in other countries, prosecution of war crimes is unthinkable without an effective cooperation among the countries in the region. Given the importance of the fight against impunity for war crimes, regional cooperation is among the key commitments that Serbia undertook as part of its European Union (EU) Accession negotiations.

However, cooperation among judicial institutions in the region has never reached its full potential, and has even been stagnating over the past few years. The major barriers to effective regional cooperation are as follows: the issue of universal jurisdiction, trials in absentia, lack of cooperation between the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of Serbia with Kosovo justice institutions, and the lack of trust between judicial institutions in the countries of the region.

This paper analyses the existing normative framework for regional cooperation, cooperation mechanisms and challenges hindering effective cooperation, with a view to proposing a set of recommendations for its improvement.

Regional Judicial Cooperation in the Prosecution of War Crimes: Analysis and Improvement Recommendations is available here.

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Third Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes

Third Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes

treci-izvestaj-enThe Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) has been monitoring and providing support to war crimes trials ever since the first war crimes proceedings conducted in Serbia in 2002. The HLC is the only organization that has been continuously monitoring and analysing war crimes trials in Serbia and informing the public at home and abroad about them. It has been representing victims (injured parties) in war crimes cases through an Attorney, filing criminal complaints with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors (OWCP) against suspected perpetrators, and sharing its documentation on war crimes. Also, the HLC has been identifying witnesses and victims and encouraging them to give evidence in court and thus contribute towards achieving justice for past crimes.

The National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes (hereinafter: the National Strategy) was adopted in February 2016. The HLC is the only non-governmental organisation that monitors and reports on its implementation with a view to assisting in a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the state of implementation of the measures and activities set forth in the National Strategy.

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Second Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes

Second Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes

Drugi_izvestaj-enThe Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) has been monitoring and providing support to war crimes trials ever since the first war crimes proceedings conducted in Serbia in 2002. The HLC is the only organization that has been continuously monitoring and analysing war crimes trials in Serbia and informing the public at home and abroad about them. It has been representing victims (injured parties) in war crimes cases through an Attorney, filing criminal complaints with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors against suspected perpetrators, and sharing its documentation on war crimes. Also, the HLC has been identifying witnesses and victims and encouraging them to give evidence in court and thus contribute to achieving justice for past crimes.

The HLC has been monitoring the implementation of the National Strategy in order to offer its independent assessment of and findings on the state of implementation of the National Strategy. This is the second report on the implementation of the National Strategy that the HLC is presenting. For complete insight into the implementation of the National Strategy, the First Report on the Implementation of the National War Crimes Prosecution Strategy, which was presented by the HLC in December 2017, is also relevant.

As shown by the HLC’s findings, no progress in war crimes prosecutions can be reported for the two years since the adoption of the National Strategy. The implementation of the National Strategy has been severely delayed, and 11 of the 12 indictments that have been issued since the adoption of the National Strategy were not the result of the OWCP investigation but transferred to the OWCP from BiH. War crimes trials continue to be unnecessarily protracted, the procedural rights of victims have not been strengthened, the number of missing persons is decreasing at a slower pace than foreseen in the National Strategy, and the relevant international governmental and non-governmental organisations have negative opinions about Serbia’s progress in the prosecution of war crimes.

The Second Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes  is available here.

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Policy Paper: Accounting for Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s in the Former Yugoslavia

Policy Paper: Accounting for Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s in the Former Yugoslavia

pp-k1-enThe wars fought in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s have left dire long-term consequences that the successor states of the former Yugoslavia will have to deal with for years to come. These states have yet to meet the challenge of dealing with systematic violations of human rights and of building democratic institutions, tasks that cannot be accomplished without taking a responsible approach towards dealing with the violent past. Such an approach is impossible without establishing the fate of the persons who are still unaccounted for as a result of the past armed conflicts.

The countries of the region still owe it to the families of 10,315 missing persons to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing or disappearance of their loved ones, and to punish those found responsible in a manner proportionate to the gravity of their crimes. Serbia’s legislative framework does not recognise the families of missing persons as civilian victims of war, as a result of which the domestic reparation system is flawed and discriminatory.

The search for missing persons is a difficult process which is dependent on the political situation in a given state in the region. Although there is a need to know the truth regarding the fate and whereabouts of persons gone missing during the armed conflicts – a need which is expressed primarily by their family members and included sporadically on the meeting agendas of statesmen in the region – in reality, the search process is hampered by many factors, such as the insufficient capacities and inadequate financial resources of the government bodies involved in tracing missing persons, and the absence of political will and of determination to enhance regional cooperation in order to make the search process more efficient and effective.

This policy paper provides an overview of the results achieved so far in addressing the missing person issue, identifies the challenges in the search for persons disappeared during the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, and proposes a set of recommendations which may help make the search process more efficient.

Policy Paper: Accounting for Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s in the Former Yugoslavia available here.

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Circumventing Justice The Statute of Limitations as a Mechanism for Denying War Victims the Right to Compensation

Circumventing Justice The Statute of Limitations as a Mechanism for Denying War Victims the Right to Compensation

zaobilazenje_pravde-enThe Republic of Serbia participated in all the armed conflicts that took place in the territory of the former Yugoslavia during the last decade of the twentieth century. A large number of people died, or disappeared, or became refugees, and very many suffered enormous material and non-pecuniary damage as a result of these conflicts.

The obligation of the Republic of Serbia to provide just compensation to victims of human rights violations arises not only from the substantial provisions of the Serbian Constitution and domestic regulations but also from the international conventions that Serbia has ratified.

In spite of the existence of clear provisions of both domestic and international law and the well-established case-law of international bodies, victims in Serbia find it virtually impossible to enforce their right to reparations before the domestic courts. The difficulties victims face in the process are varied. The standard of proof is set too high, court proceedings drag on for several years, courts do not believe the victims and their evidence, to name just a few. Provisions governing statutory-limitation periods for filing compensation claims – or rather, the way Serbian judges interpret them, is one of the major obstacles faced by victims.

The report Circumventing Justice: The Statute of Limitations as a Mechanism for Denying War Victims the Right to Compensation points out the marked tendency of the domestic judiciary to interpret statute of limitations rules in a manner that leads to the denial of the right to compensation for the victims of gross violations of human rights, by ruling their right to compensation time-barred. Such an arbitrary application of the statute of limitations for bringing compensation claims works against the interests of the victims and amounts to a grave violation of the right to a fair trial guaranteed by both domestic and international regulations.

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Dossier: The JNA in the Wars in Croatia and BiH

Dossier: The JNA in the Wars in Croatia and BiH

JNA_u_ratovima-enThe role of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and its transformation from the Yugoslav into the Serbian army, is the subject of this, the tenth Dossier of the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC). It is the most extensive of the HLC Dossiers so far, covering the period from the end of the 1980s up to May 1992. It explores how the JNA and political leadership of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and Serbia prepared for the wars, the JNA’s involvement in the conflicts, and its contribution to achieving the wartime goals of Serbia, the Republic of Serbian Krajina and Republika Srpska.

The introduction section of the Dossier presents facts about the development of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia and the steps undertaken by the leadership of the Republic of Serbia, headed by Slobodan Milosevic, to take control of the JNA, with a view to using it for achieving their own wartime goals. After that, the Dossier presents the role of the JNA in the war in Croatia, and in the BiH.

In each of the examples given of the JNA’s military involvement in Croatia and BiH, the pattern of attacks is described and the JNA units that took part in them are listed. Also, evidence on the identity of the perpetrators of crimes committed during the attacks, whether they were JNA members or members of Serb formations who participated in the actions alongside the JNA, is presented.

The Dossier also presents evidence on the JNA’s role in arming Serb formations in Croatia and BiH in the lead-up to the conflicts, and on the assistance and support it provided to Serb militaries in Croatia and BIH after having formally withdrawn from these republics.

Some of the examples given, which are substantiated by military documents, make clear that after a decision was issued on JNA’s formal withdrawal from BiH in May 1992, its units  remaining behind in BiH were simply renamed, to become units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). The VRS retained the command structure of the JNA and its manpower, and took possession of its weaponry. This gave the newly established army of the Bosnian Serbs a head start over all other armed formations in BiH.

The Dossier: The JNA in the Wars in Croatia and BiH is available here.

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Public opinion poll on „The awareness of Serbian citizens about the wars and war crimes of the ‘90s, and war crimes trials“

Public opinion poll on „The awareness of Serbian citizens about the wars and war crimes of the ‘90s, and war crimes trials“

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A survey conducted by the Research and Publishing Center Demostat for the needs of the daily newspaper Danas, for the first time since 2011, presents the views of citizens about war crimes trials before domestic courts and the Hague Tribunal, as well as their views about the opening of archives, regional cooperation of judicial bodies, political rehabilitation of convicted war criminals, compensations to victims and raising of war memorials, and reform of the educational programme, and addresses in conclusion the perception of guilt and responsibility for the crimes committed and the general awareness of citizens about the wars and crimes committed in the ‘90s.


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Initial Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution

Initial Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution

Izvesta_o_sprovodjenju_NSZPRZ-srThe Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) has been monitoring and providing support to war crimes trials since the first war crimes proceedings conducted in Serbia in 2002. The HLC is the only organization that has been continuously monitoring and analyzing war crimes trials in Serbia and informing the public at home and abroad about them. It has been representing victims in war crimes cases through an attorney, filing criminal complaints with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors (OWCP) against suspected perpetrators, and sharing its documentation on war crimes.

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The legal and institutional framework in Serbia regarding the rights and needs of civilian victims of war

The legal and institutional framework in Serbia regarding the rights and needs of civilian victims of war

AThe legal and institutional freds of civilian victims of war 1rmed conflicts in the territories of the former Yugoslavia lasted from 1991 to 2001. The wars in Croatia (1991-1995), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995) and Kosovo (1998-1999) resulted in the mass murders of civilians, ethnic cleansing and persecution of hundreds of thousands of people, but also a large number of grave crimes unseen in Europe since World War II. Serbia had an active and involved role in these conflicts. In the context of the armed conflicts, the authorities in Serbia during this entire period were responsible for serious violations of the fundamental rights of its own citizens from the ranks of national minorities, as well as of some members of the majority Serbian population. In Serbia today there are a significant number of citizens who came to Serbia as refugees owing to the wars in other countries of the former Yugoslavia, and most of them have remained in Serbia permanently. Among them are a fair number who survived crimes, whose physical and psychological consequences they suffer to this day, as well as many of those who lost one or more family members in the war.


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Judging with impunity: The role of prosecutors and judges in show trials of Kosovo Albanians in the period 1998-2000

Judging with impunity: The role of prosecutors and judges in show trials of Kosovo Albanians in the period 1998-2000

montirani_procesi_protiv_K_A-enAround the end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997, the offices of district public prosecutors began  indicting Kosovo Albanians en masse, pursuant to Article 125 of the CCY (with reference to terrorism) and Article 136, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the CCY (with reference to association for the purpose of conducting hostile activities). The trials for the above-cited charges were conducted by district courts in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999, more specifically until 9 June 1999 when the Kumanovo Agreement was signed and the army and police began their withdrawal from the territory of Kosovo.

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