Belgrade District Court fails to establish Ilija Jurisić’s responsibility in the Tuzla Convoy Case beyond reasonable doubt

Belgrade — Belgrade District Court’s War Crimes Chamber, presided by Judge Vinka Nikićević-Beraha, sentenced the accused Ilija Jurisić to 12 years of imprisonment, for the criminal act of use of impermissible means of combat pursuant to Article 148 Para 2 in relation to paragraph 1 of the SFRY Criminal Code.

According to the Humanitarian Law Center, whose monitor attended the trial on regular basis, the court failed to establish Ilija Jurišić’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The reasons for the conviction, stated by Justice Beraha in the oral explanation of the verdict, are not convincing. The court rejected the defense’s proposal to examine witnesses who had knowledge on the activities and authority of the accused Jurišić. In so doing the court failed to execute its most important task, which is to fully establish the facts and the responsibility of the accused. Even though many victim-witnesses were examined, thus enabling the voice of the family of the killed soldiers to be heard, their testimonies did not help in establishing Jurišić’s responsibility. The court dismissed the defense of the accused because it contradicted the testimony of witness Meša Bajrić’s (the accused’s superior), but did not examine witness Budimir Nikolić who was in the same office with the accused and Bajrić on the critical day, and who could have testified about what was really happening, as well as about the role and authority of the accused. The court did not examine police officers who were in the field on the critical day, although their testimonies were crucial in order to fully establish whether or not the attack had already begun in the moment when the accused relayed the order, what the order was, and if it were a defense order. Also, the Court failed to hear Mato Zrinić, an injured party who was wounded in the convoy, although it is the court’s obligation to examine all victim-witnesses. Failure to subpoena Zrinić could be related to the fact that he left the JNA and joined the Tuzla police after the event in question.

The accused Jurišić, the duty officer in the Tuzla Public Security Centre (CJB) Operational Headquarters (and a member of the Bosniak-Croat side in the conflict), is convicted because on May 15th 1992 in Tuzla he relayed an order from the Operational Headquarters over the radio to all units of the Bosniak-Croat forces to attack a convoy of JNA soldiers that was withdrawing under a ceasefire agreement between BiH and FRY on the JNA’s peaceful withdrawal from the BiH territory to the FRY territory. The court found that Jurišić, who had authorization to issue orders to all Bosniak-Croat armed forces in the Tuzla area, acted in opposition to the ceasefire agreement between representatives of the Tuzla civil and military authorities when at 1700 hours he conveyed the order from his superior officer the Commander of the Operational Headquarters, and the Chief of the Public Security Centre, Meho Bajrić, to launch an attack. In the attack on the part of the convoy which had become separated from the rest of the convoy as it was passing through the Skojevska Street and the Brčanska malta intersection, 50 members of the JNA were killed and another 44 JNA members were wounded. For his role in this incident, the court found Jurišić guilty of committing the criminal act of use of impermissible means of combat pursuant to Article 148 Paragraph 2 in relation to the Paragraph 1 of the SFRJ Criminal Code.

The court accepted all counts of the indictment and did not engage itself in checking some of the relevant charges, such as whether or not the accused Jurišić had actual authority to give orders to all of the Bosniak-Croat armed forces.

The Ilija Jurišić case has been the first case since the Republic of Serbia War Crimes Chamber was established in which the indictment was raised before the investigation was completed. The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor filed the indictment and published it in the media on November 9th 2007, while the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH, acting upon the request for aid of the Belgrade District Court’s War Crimes Chamber, conducted a hearing of a total of 14 witnesses along with the investigation judge of the War Crimes Chamber, Milan Dilparić, and the Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor, Dragoljub Stanković. The announcement of the indictment before the completion of the investigation and the persistent refusal of judicial bodies in Serbia to transfer the case to the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH which is also conducting an investigation into the same event, point to the political motivation of the authorities in Serbia to prosecute the Tuzla Convoy case in Belgrade, regardless of the court’s inability to conduct hearings of a number of witnesses from BiH in Serbia. This is also indicated by the fact that no family members of the killed policemen were among the victim-witnesses, nor were any other citizens from Tuzla.

The trial of the accused Jurišić started on February 22nd 2008. A total of 32 trial days were held since the beginning of the main hearing, during which a total of seven experts and 78 witnesses gave their testimonies, 46 of whom were victim-witnesses. Protected witness A was among the witnesses, but there were no victim-witnesses, who live and work in Tuzla. A large number of material evidence was presented, including footage of the convoy leaving the barracks, and footage of the beginning of the shooting, which was subject to the expert review, but failed to establish the accused Ilija Jurišić’s responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt.