Trial of Trbojević Just but Punishment Lenient

On May 27th 2009, the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court presided by Judge Snežana Nikolić-Garotić rendered a guilty judgement against Boro Trbojević and sentenced him to ten years imprisonment for a war crime against civilian population. The Republic of Croatia Office of the Prosecutor referred this case to the Republic of Serbia Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor. Namely, the Cantonal Court in Bjelovar convicted Boro Trbojević in absentia along with now late Bogdan Trbojević for the same criminal act and sentenced them to 20 years of imprisonment each.

The trial was conducted in accordance with standards of professionalism and fairness. It was efficient and dynamic. However, the punishment the accused Trbojević was sentenced to as the immediate perpetrator of the murder of five persons is too lenient and does not contribute to bringing justice to the victims. The accused Trbojević did not show signs of remorse in the course of the trial, but insisted on denying his responsibility until the end of the main hearing. Even though he had an opportunity to release the prisoners during retreat or to leave them so that Croat forces would be able to find them, the accused, along with the prison governor, Bogdan Trbojević, executed them, which shows that the motive for committing this act was national hatred. HLC believes that the sentence of ten years imprisonment is unacceptable for the victims’ families.

On the basis of the evidence presented, the Court established that the accused Trbojević, as a member of the so-called Bilogorski Detachment, took part in taking and detaining hostages and the murder of civilians of Croat ethnicity, in the period from August 13th 1991 until October 31st 1991, on the territory of the Grubišno Polje Municipality, thus taking part in the forcible arrest and detention of Vlado Radošević and Ivan Vereš, who were subsequently exchanged.

On August 20th 1991, he participated in the siege of the Topolovica village and hostage-taking conducted by separating men from women in Kata Kotoran’s yard. Then he locked women in a stable. Subsequently, he participated in the apprehension of Matija Kotoran, whose body was later on found in a mass grave, Seleši Željko, who was killed in the prison in Velika Peratovica, and Miško Čep, who was exchanged.

In the evening of October 31st 1991, in the prison that was located in the cellar of an elementary school in Velika Peratovica, where he was a guard, Trbojević, along with late Bogdan Trbojević and another unidentified person, opened automatic gun fire at detained civilians. On this occasion Željko Seleši, Božidar Jakopec, Petar Kramer, Franjo Šokec and Mato Petek died, while Vendel Šklebek was not injured because he hid behind a wall in the cellar.

The Chamber did not accept the statements given by defence witnesses Stevo Bosanac, Milica Bosanac, Dušan Mrkšić, Savo and Gordana Lakić because they were directed at supporting the defendant.
Notes for Editors:

● A total of 10 days of trial were held and 26 witnesses were examined. Due to the good cooperation with the Croatian judicial system, two witnesses from Croatia testified before this court, and four injured parties testified via video link from premises of the Zagreb Cantonal Court. The court accepted as evidence statements of injured parties Ivan and Vesna Petek, which they gave to the court in Croatia, because they were able to appear in the main hearing before the Belgrade War Crimes Chamber.

● In the short reasoning, the Court stated that it accepted the testimony of injured parties Vlado Radošević and Ivan Vereš, who saw the accused Trbojević keeping guard on 13 August 1991 when they were arrested on the Gornja Raševica – Velika Peratovica road. The court trusted witness Kata Kotaran, who described and recognized the accused and stated that he participated in the attack on Topalovica launched on 20 August 1991.

● The main evidence are statements given by Vendel Šklebek, who survived the execution in the basement of the elementary school where the prison was located, as well as statements of injured parties Vereš and Radošević, who learned about what had happened from a subsequent conversation with Šklebek. Milenko Stojkić, a defence witness, stated that on 31 October 1991, when Serbs were withdrawing from Velika Peratovica, the defendant came to him and asked him what to do with prisoners. After hearing an answer that he should release them and either take them with him or leave them in the basement, the defendant went in the direction of the prison where prisoners were executed.