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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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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