Trbojevic verdict confirms murder of five prisoners

On December 4th 2009, the Serbian Supreme Court confirmed the verdict of the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court, which had found the accused Boro Trbojevic guilty of war crimes against the civilian population and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment. The Supreme Court dismissed as unfounded the appeal of the war crimes prosecutor and the defence of the accused Trbojevic. In its reasoning the Supreme Court stated that the first-instance verdict does not contain the essential violation of the provisions of criminal procedure or criminal law that the second instance court considers ex officio.

The court brought its judgement on the basis of evidence which established that the accused Trbojevic, as a member of the so-called Bilogora unit, participated in the detention and murder of civilians of Croatian nationality in the period from August 13th to October 31st 1991 in the municipality of Grubišno Polje. On August 13th 1991, Trbojevic participated in the forcible detention and hostage taking of Vlada Radošević and Ivan Vereš who were later exchanged on August 20th 1991. Trbojevic participated in surrounding the village of Topolović and then the detention of hostages; in the courtyard of Kat Kotoran’s house, Trbojevic separated women from men. Locking the women in a barn, he then took away Matthias Kotor, whose body was later found in a mass grave. Trbojevic separated Zeljko Seles and Misko Cep and took them to a make-shift prison located in the basement of the elementary school in the Peratovic. In the evening of October 31st 1991 Trbojevic and another unknown person were on guard duty at the aforementioned prison. That evening Trbojevic opened fire with an automatic weapon and in so doing killed Zeljko Seles, Bozidar Jakopec, Peter Kramer, Franjo Sokec and Mato Petek. Vendel Sklebek was only injured because he hid behind a wall in the basement-prison. In doing this, Trbojevic committed the criminal offense of a war crimes against the civilian population from Article 142 Paragraph 1 KZJ.

HLC believes that the punishment to which the accused Trbojevic, as the direct perpetrator of the murder of five people, has been convicted is unduly mild and does not contribute to justice for the victims. Trbojevic did not show remorse during the trial, and continued until the end to protest his innocence. Even though Trbojevic had the opportunity to free the prisoners so that they could be found by Croatian forces, the accused instead decided to put them in a prison, where as a guard he liquidated them. This indicates that the motive of the crime was national hatred. HLC considers the sentence of ten years unacceptable to the families of victims.