Osijek County Court Convicted Antun Gudelj to 20 Years of Imprisonment
The verdict rendered by the Osijek County Court [7 July 2008] convicting Antun Gudelj to the maximum sentence of twenty years of imprisonment is only the first step towards the clarification of the murder of peacekeepers. The state is obliged to investigate whether the murder of Josip Reihl Kir, Goran Zobundžija, and Milan Knežević and the attempted murder of Mirko Tubić were planned in order to obstruct negotiations and possible multinational solution as an alternative to the war. We would like to remind that the negotiators were killed on 1 July 1991, just prior to the escalation of the war in Croatia.
Despite the legally proper retrial and a very severe conviction of Antun Gudelj, it remains a fact that the Croatian authorities, and especially the Judiciary, did not truly care about establishing the facts and punishing this crime for seventeen years. Antun Gudelj committed these murders in the presence of several police officers who allowed him to escape. Neither did they arrest him the following day, when he appeared unarmed at the same police checkpoint. The court rendered a detention order only a month and a half after the murders were committed, when the perpetrator had already left Croatia. Under public pressure he was tried in absentia and then the highest judicial instance, the Republic of Croatia Supreme Court, granted him amnesty even though he had committed a very serious criminal act. The State Prosecutor did not file a request for protection of legality or a constitutional action to this decision rendered by the Supreme Court. And finally, no investigation was conducted into persons about whom there were serious indications that they incited, or even planned, this crime.
On the whole, the entire procedure would not be even conducted were it not for the injured party Jadranka Reihl Kir and her legal representative, who initiated a long legal battle over several years. She was forced to take over the role of the prosecution authority. She suffered attacks and humiliation in the public and she exposed herself to the risk of violence against her.
Acting within the scope of the indictment and evidence proposed by the Office of the Prosecutor, the court accepted that defendant Antun Gudelj committed these crimes because he was angered that negotiations with Serbs from Tenja were being conducted, since he had previously heard that his father had been killed and hanged on the Orthodox church in Tenja, that his mother was raped and murdered, and that their family house had been set on fire. Information about the sufferings of the defendant’s parents were false and it is uncertain whether this was the true motive for the murders, when at that moment he was at the police checkpoint, which was located only 500 meters away from his family house and he was able to check whether or not these rumours were true since telephone lines were still in operation at the time.
Without the Prosecutor’s initiative, the court was not obliged to open these issues, but only to act within the limitations of the indictment. Osijek County Office of the State Prosecutor found an opportunity to ensure that Antun Gudelj’s guilt for murder and attempted murder would be proved using reckless revenge as a motive since it was not allowed in the retrial to modify the legal qualification of the criminal act that the defendant had previously been convicted of because Australia had extradited him under this condition. We suppose that the Office of the Prosecutor chose to take the easy way to a certain acquittal since there were no difficulties in proving the defendant’s guilt for the murder arising out of reckless revenge. However, it is their duty to establish what really happened and they had the possibility to modify the indictment during the course of the trial.
During the trial, however, a coincidence that could not be challenged was established and that is that Antun Gudelj killed Josip Reihl Kir at the exact time when the injured party and many state officials at the time knew that his murder was being prepared and when the order for his transfer to Zagreb had already been issued for the very same reason. The public is aware of the statement given by Slavko Degoricija, the then Deputy Minister of Interior, that they had received information from the secret services about the possible masterminds of the criminal act from the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ). Witness Angelina Ratković, wife of Radoslav Ratković who survived the attempted murder on the banks of the Drava River, said in her statement that Branimir Glavaš was present at this police checkpoint soon before the murders happened and organized armed people, who were present at this checkpoint.
If the Office of the State Prosecutor does not open a comprehensive investigation, it violates the right of victims’ families to truth about all facts about the motives and the manner in which the crime was committed. This represents a serious criminal act against the people who carried out their duty of keeping peace and security, especially bearing in mind its extensive direct and indirect consequences on the spreading of political violence, the broadening of interethnic divisions between Croatian citizens, and the escalation of the armed conflict. Hence, it is in the common public interest to determine whether those who threatened Josip Reihl Kir actually committed the act of murder in the capacity of inciters. Therefore, we, the undersigned organizations, demand that the State Office of the Prosecutor takes proper actions.
Centre for Peace, Non-Violence, and Human Rights, Osijek
Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past, Zagreb
Civic Committee for Human Rights, Zagreb
Croatian Helsinki Committee
Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade
Trial reports available at www.centar-za-mir.hr under Other Trials