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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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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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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Criminal charges for the murder of Matijević familly in April 1992

Criminal charges for the murder of Matijević familly in April 1992

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On October 16, 2018, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) filed a criminal complaint with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) of the Republic of Serbia against several unknown persons, for killing three members of the Matijević family in April 1992 in Kukujevci (Municipality of Šid, Serbia).

In the late evening hours of April 20, 1992, several unknown persons entered the courtyard of the Croatian family Matijević in Kukujevci. They took Ana, Joza and their son Franjo Matijević, a minor, from the house, and drove them to an unknown destination. Several years later, their mortal remains were exhumed from the cemetery in Mohovo (Municipality of Ilok, Croatia). To date, no one has been charged for this crime before the courts in Serbia.


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HLC presented the Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution and Policy Paper: Accounting for Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s in the Former Yugoslavia

HLC presented the Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution and Policy Paper: Accounting for Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s in the Former Yugoslavia

izvestaj-nac-strategija

On Friday, July 27, 2018, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) presented its second Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution. Opening the discussion on the report, Jelena Krstić from the HLC pointed to the fact that the problems that led to the adoption of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes are still current: a small number of indictments, the lack of criteria for prioritising cases, a slowdown in trials, an inadequate witness and victims protection system, as well as inefficient regional cooperation. At the same time, the precondition Serbia needs to fulfill in order to join the European Union (EU) is to make visible progress in the prosecution of war crimes before domestic courts. Bearing in mind the current dynamics of the trials, Serbia risks losing a historical opportunity to prosecute as many war crimes perpetrators as possible. Namely, as time goes by, victims, witnesses and perpetrators are coming closer to the moment of death, and their memories are becoming more and more unstable; everyday socio-economic problems are taking precedence over concerns regarding events that occurred several decades ago, and the perspective of the future is becoming more and more important in relation to the need to solve the heritage of the past. Krstić concluded that for a more effective processing of war crimes the political determination of the institutions of Serbia is crucial, but that strong support and encouragement by the EU is also still needed.


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