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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Dossier: Forcible Mobilisation of Refugees

Dossier: Forcible Mobilisation of Refugees

Dosije-PrisilnaMobilizacija-srFrom the outbreak of war in Croatia and BiH, and especially in connection with the Croatian military-police operations “Flash” and “Storm”, about 500,000 Serbs, citizens of Croatia and BiH, fled to Serbia. Tens of thousands of Serbs from Croatia fled to Serbia during 1991 and 1992. They mostly exchanged their houses and property with Croats from Vojvodina, who, under pressure from the Serbian Radical Party and paramilitary groups, left Serbia. At least 200,000 people fled Croatia from May until the end of August 1995, during and after the “Flash” and “Storm” operations of the Croatian Army and the MUP. Most of the refugees were accommodated in reception centres across Serbia, in old hotels, unused public facilities, or with relatives and friends, and only a few were able to rent an apartment.


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

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

Izvestaj-Strategija-IV_korice_eng1The 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. HLC has been filing criminal complaints against suspected perpetrators and sharing its documentation on war crimes with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutors (OWCP). 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.


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Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia

Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia

izvestaj_o_SZRZ-2019-enThis is the seventh report of the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) on war crimes trials in Serbia. The HLC has monitored all war crimes trials conducted in the territory of Serbia during 2017 and 2018, a total of 20 trials, conducted by the War Crimes Departments of the Higher Court in Belgrade or the Court of Appeal in Belgrade, including one trial conducted by a court of general jurisdiction. A brief overview of all cases observed, and the HLC’s key findings on each case of interest to the public, are provided in the Report.

A significant portion of the war crimes proceedings presented in the Report have been ongoing for a number of years. Therefore the previous annual HLC Reports on war crimes trials may also be consulted for full appreciation of the course of the proceedings and the corresponding findings. The Report also includes a trial for a criminal offence that the competent prosecutor’s office of general jurisdiction did not classify as a war crime, despite all the circumstances of the case indicating otherwise.

The Report focuses particularly on the work of the War Crimes Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) and of the courts (in the parts of the proceedings which are open to the public), and analyses the indictments and judgments in each individual case. An analysis of the work of other institutions involved in war crimes prosecution (the War Crimes Investigation Service of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior, the Witness Protection Unit, et al.) could not be made within the context of each case because of the lack of publicly available information about their work.

The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade handed down first-instance judgments in three cases over the reporting period. The War Crimes Department of the Court of Appeal in Belgrade handed down four rulings on appeals against judgments passed by the Higher Court in Belgrade. One interim judgment was handed down by a court of general jurisdiction, and was subsequently confirmed by the Court of Appeal. The OWCP issued a total of 14 indictments over the reporting period, three in 2017 (against four individuals), and 11 in 2018 (against 15 individuals), as indicated in the information supplied to the HLC by the OWCP.

The Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia is available here.

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Dossier: Crimes against Croats in Vojvodina

Dossier: Crimes against Croats in Vojvodina

Dosije_Hrvati_u_Vojvodini_enIn the period 1991-1995, in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, there was a campaign of intimidation and pressure on Croatian civilians with the aim to force them to leave their homes, and Serbia as well. The campaign, the intensity of which changed and reached its highest peaks in the second half of 1991, from spring to autumn 1992 and in summer of 1995, resulted in the expulsion of several tens of thousands of Croats from Vojvodina. Violence against Croats in Vojvodina included attacks on their private property and religious buildings, as well as threats, physical attacks and murders.

Vojislav Šešelj and his Serbian Radical Party (SRS) were the main advocates and inspirers of the campaign of intimidation and pressure on the Croat population in Vojvodina. The persecution of Croatian families was carried out under the pressure of various groups close to the SRS, composed of the local population, a militant part of the Serbian refugees from Croatia, and of members of  volunteer units from Serbia who had participated in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This intimidation campaign took place with the awareness and tacit approval of the political structures of the Republic of Serbia. The evidence presented in this Dossier shows that in some acts of violence against Croats, persons from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) of the Republic of Serbia also took part. In addition, in the forced eviction of Vojvodina Croats, the State Security Department (RDB) of the MUP of the Republic of Serbia played a significant role.

In the period between the two population censuses of 1991 and 2002, the number of Croats and members of other non-Serb populations in the territory of Vojvodina was noticeably reduced. The number of Croats was reduced in 39 out of 45 municipalities in Vojvodina; and across the territory of the entire Vojvodina, the number of Croats decreased by 18,262, i.e. by 24.41%.

In this Dossier, evidence of events in certain Vojvodina municipalities (Ruma, Šid, Stara Pazova, Inđija, Petrovaradin and Apatin) has been presented, showing how strong the pressure on the Croats to emigrate was, and where the ethnic picture was changed the most. The Dossier is based on the testimonies of witnesses and families of victims given to the Humanitarian Law Center, RDB documents, judgments of the courts in Serbia, and documents presented to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as media reports.

Dossier: Crimes against Croats in Vojvodina is available here.

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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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