Policy paper: Awarding restitution claims for victims of sexual violence in war crimes proceedings before Serbian courts

Policy paper: Awarding restitution claims for victims of sexual violence in war crimes proceedings before Serbian courts

predlog-prakticne-politike-enAn associated action for restitution constitutes a claim for the compensation of damages, recovery of property or the annulment of a legal transaction arising from the commission of a criminal offence.

In criminal proceedings, the injured party may file an associated action for damages starting from the investigation stage until the end of the main hearing and the claim shall be decided by the court unless it would delay the proceedings.

Although awarding this claim has been laid down as a rule in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia, the courts in the Republic of Serbia have been interpreting this legal provision as an exception. Namely, ever since 2003, from which time specialized court divisions handling solely war crime trials have been in existence, not a single war crime victim has been awarded damages in associated action during the criminal proceedings, but they have been referred to exercise their right to compensation in civil action.


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Dossier: VRS 43rd Motorised Brigade in Prijedor

Dossier: VRS 43rd Motorised Brigade in Prijedor

43mb-enBetween May and August 1992, units of the 1st Krajina Corps of the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS), together with the police of the Republika Srpska, Territorial Defence Force (TO) units and various volunteer groups, carried out attacks on a large number villages in the municipality of Prijedor inhabited predominantly by Bosniaks and Croats.

In the documents of the VRS and the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) of the Republika Srpska, combat operations in the Prijedor municipality were referred to as “cleansing operations” and actions aimed to crush extremist groups. However, as established in several judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), these operations involved the systematic killings, abuses, arrests and detention of non-Serbs, as well as the destruction and looting of their property.

More than 3,000 civilians died in the territory of Prijedor municipality in 1992, and around 38,000 Bosniaks and Croats left the municipality before the second half of October of 1992.


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Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2020

Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2020

GI-slika-engThe HLC has monitored all war crimes trials conducted in the territory of Serbia in 2020, namely a total of 21 cases conducted before the War Crimes Departments of the Higher Court and/or the Court of Appeal in Belgrade.

The Report provides a brief overview of the proceedings and of the HLC’s basic findings in respect of cases which are of public relevance. A large number of the war crimes cases covered by this Report have been going on for a number of years now, so that previous HLC annual trial reports are also relevant for a full grasp of the course of the proceedings and the pertinent HLC findings.


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DOSSIER: Camps for Croats in Serbia

DOSSIER: Camps for Croats in Serbia

Dosije-logori-thumb-enOn November 18, 1991, after a three-month siege of the city, the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) took over Vukovar with the assistance of the Serbian Territorial Defence Forces (TO) and military volunteer units. Upon occupying the city, a large number of members of the Croatian forces, as well as civilians, were captured by the JNA, including the wounded, women, minors and elderly people.

The JNA transferred those captured persons to the territory of Vojvodina, where already in September 1991 several camps for prisoners of war from the territory of Croatia had been established.

According to research conducted by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), the largest camp set up in Serbia was at the Sremska Mitrovica Penal Correctional Facility (KPD). In addition to this camp, there were camps in the Banat villages of Begejci and Stajićevo, the JNA barracks in Aleksinac and the Niš Penal Correctional Facility. In Serbia, there were also smaller “transit” camps and centres, where detainees stayed for several days before being transferred to some of the larger camps. Although there were more such camps, in this Dossier we have identified the facilities in Šid, a military police training centre in Bubanj Potok and a JNA barracks in Paragovo.

All the camps – except Niš, which was in the area of responsibility of the 3rd Military District (VO) of the JNA -, were within the area of responsibility of the 1st VO of the JNA. The security of the camp was provided by members of the JNA military police. JNA officers were appointed commanders of the camp; however, the real control of the camps was exercised by the Security Administration of the Federal Secretariat for National Defence (UB SSNO).


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Policy Paper: The 1990s Wars in Former Yugoslavia in History Education

Policy Paper: The 1990s Wars in Former Yugoslavia in History Education

predlog-prakticne-primene-enThe state authorities in Serbia have formally committed to raising awareness about the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia, the war crimes committed during them, and the necessity for their prosecution. The National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, which the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted in 2016, sets raising awareness and outreach in society as one of its goals. Within the outreach section, the National Strategy addresses formal education, but very briefly, and without binding regulations for educational authorities. The ongoing problem is that, in practice, formal education does not dedicate a lot of attention to the wars that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Although education is mentioned, the National Strategy has not initiated any changes in the way the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s are taught.

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War Crimes Trials – Still at The Beginning

War Crimes Trials – Still at The Beginning

hlck

Within the regular activities of the “Monitoring Conflict Related Crime Trials in Kosovo and the Inclusion of the Youth in the Justice Sector” project, in the second half of February 2020, the Humanitarian Law Center in Kosovo (HLCK) finished drafting its planned yearly report on the most significant trials monitored during past year, titled “War Crimes Trials – Still at The Beginning”.

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Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2019

Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2019

Report_on_war_crimes_trials_2019-en-thumbOn the following link you could read the 8th Report on War Crimes Trias in Serbia during 2019 prepared by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC).

The HLC has monitored all war crimes trials conducted in the territory of Serbia during 2019, namely a total of 24 cases conducted before the War Crimes Departments of the Higher Court and the Court of Appeal in Belgrade. The Report provides a brief overview of all the cases and of the HLC’s basic findings in respect of proceedings which are of public relevance. A large number of the war crimes cases covered by this Report have been going on for a number of years now, so that previous HLC Reports on war crimes trials may also be consulted for a full grasp of the course of the proceedings and the relevant HLC findings.

The Report focuses on the work of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) and the courts in sessions open to the public, primarily analysing the indictments and judgments in each particular case. An analysis of the work of other bodies involved in the prosecution of war crimes – the War Crimes Investigation Service of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP), the Witness Protection Unit and others, could not be undertaken in respect of the individual cases, as no information on their activities was publicly available.

In the reporting period, the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade handed down first-instance judgments in eight cases. The War Crimes Department of the Court of Appeal in Belgrade handed down four judgments and one ruling, two of the judgments and the ruling being on appeals lodged against judgments of the Higher Court in Belgrade, and the two other judgments on appeals against judgments of the Court of Appeal in Belgrade in proceedings in which the Department decided at third instance. Over the reporting period, the OWCP filed three indictments against three individuals.

Since it began working in 2003 until the end of 2019, the OWCP brought indictments in 76 war crimes cases, indicting a total of 198 persons and encompassing 2,454 victims who lost their lives. Three of the cases were joined with cases instituted earlier, and final rulings were rendered in 49 out of 73 cases; one case was terminated on account of the death of the defendant; in three cases the indictments were dismissed because the defendants had been found unfit to stand trial; and 20 cases are ongoing. In those cases which have been finally concluded, a total of 70 defendants have been convicted and 52 acquitted.

Preceding the analyses of the cases in the Report is an overview of general findings on war crimes trials in 2019, and of important socio-political developments which have had some bearing on war crimes trials.

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

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

fifth_report-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 analyzing war crimes trials in Serbia and informing the public at home and abroad about them. The HLC has been filing criminal complaints against suspected perpetrators with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors (OWCP), and it has also been identifying witnesses and victims and encouraging them to give evidence in court, and thus contribute to 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.

This is the fifth HLC report on the implementation of the National Strategy. It covers the period from 1 June 2019 to 1 December 2019. A comprehensive assessment of the state implementation of the National Strategy in the preceding period is provided in the Initial Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, the Second Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, the Third Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes and the Fourth Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes which were released and presented in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

As shown by the findings presented in this fifth report, no progress in war crimes prosecutions can be reported for the 44 months since the adoption of the National Strategy. Out of the total of 23 indictments that have been filed since the adoption of the National Strategy, 19 were transferred to the OWCP from B&H. War crimes trials continue to be lengthy, the procedural rights of victims have not been strengthened, and the number of persons identified as missing has been decreasing slower than expected. As regards the attitudes towards war crimes and war crimes trials in Serbia, the past several months have been marked by the continued public promotion of convicted war criminals.

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

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Policy Paper: Prosecution of Crimes of Sexual Violence during Armed Conflicts before the Courts of the Republic of Serbia

Policy Paper: Prosecution of Crimes of Sexual Violence during Armed Conflicts before the Courts of the Republic of Serbia

predlog_prakticne_politike-enIn 1991 and 1992, while conflict took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the international community was interested in allegations by the media and non-governmental organisations that sexual violence was frequently committed. As a result, certain domestic and international organisations, began investigating those media allegations, and the UN Security Council formed the Panel of Experts, with the aim of determining whether sexual violence was strategically used as a weapon of war. The report submitted by the Panel of Experts influenced the establishment of the ICTY in 1993 and the creation of a new legal framework dealing with sexual violence.

Although the extent of sexual violence committed in the former Yugoslavia is undoubtedly huge, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors has so far prosecuted only 10 cases of sexual violence committed during the conflict, out of which one case was about sexual violence for which criminal charges were pressed as late as 2018, whereas the other nine cases were about sexual violence and murder.

This policy paper is intended for Serbian institutions responsible for investigating and processing wartime sexual violence. Namely, the HLC has been monitoring all trials before the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade since 2003. During its sixteen years of existence, the HLC has identified certain defects that must be removed to ensure successful prosecution of crimes before the domestic court. In view of this, this policy paper is divided into two parts. The first part contains an analysis of the international framework for the prosecution of these crimes, whereas the second is focused on the domestic legislative framework related to them and contains recommendations for its improvement.

The Policy Paper is available here.

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Policy Paper: Improving the Status and Rights of Victims and Witnesses in War Crimes Proceedings in Serbia

Policy Paper: Improving the Status and Rights of Victims and Witnesses in War Crimes Proceedings in Serbia

Predlog-prakticne-politike-enThe role of victims in war crimes proceedings is irreplaceable, as their testimonies in these proceedings are often the key evidence that can support the allegations in the indictment. In order to ensure a smooth and efficient trial, it is crucial that victims have the support of the institutions responsible for prosecution, and that they are informed about court proceedings and their rights, so that their testimony is of as high a quality as possible, but the consequences for them in  life afterwards as minimal as possible. The attitude of the competent judicial authorities towards victims greatly affects their decision to participate in criminal proceedings, as well as their sense of confidence in the judicial system. In view of the fact that giving testimony is very traumatic for many victims, it is vital that the judicial system recognises the needs and concerns of the victims and provides them with the support and necessary information to reduce re-traumatisation and, at the same time, prepare them for quality testimony.

Over the past 16 years, since the establishment and operation of the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade, the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) has identified a number of deficiencies in the victim and witness support system in war crimes proceedings. Some of the shortcomings are: an inadequate normative framework governing the status of victims and witnesses; the insufficient capacities of the institutions in charge of assistance and support to victims and witnesses during all stages of criminal proceedings; and  the insufficient training and sensitivity of employees in institutions competent for war crimes proceedings.

The Policy Paper: Improving the Status and Rights of Victims and Witnesses in War Crimes Proceedings in Serbia analyses the legal and institutional framework governing the rights of victims and witnesses, and identifies existing problems regarding the status of victims and witnesses, with the aim of proposing recommendations to the institutions of Serbia responsible for war crimes prosecutions for improving the conditions under which victims testify during criminal proceedings before the courts in Serbia.

The Policy Paper is available here.

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