Defendants in the Croatian Family Murder Case in Lički Osik Sentenced to 12 Years Each

The War Crimes Trial Chamber of the High Court in Belgrade sentenced Čeda Budisavljević, Mirko Malinović, Milan Bogunović, and Bogdan Gruičić to 12 years in prison each for war crimes committed against the civilian population in October 1991 in Lički Osik, Croatia. The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Croatia transferred this case to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia based on the Agreement on Cooperation in Prosecuting War Crimes Perpetrators.

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that such a decision cannot serve justice and satisfy victims’ family members especially because of the brutality demonstrated by the accused Budisavljević, Malinović, and Bogunović during the execution of the victims and the burning of the body of Lucija Rakić, and the barbarity of all four of the accused at the time bodies of the killed Mane, Dragan, Milovan, and Radmila Rakić were thrown into the Golubnjača cave. Although the accused Budisavljević pleaded guilty to the commitment of the criminal act and gave a detailed description of the role of each of the defendants in the execution of the Rakić family, which was considered as extenuating circumstances in determining the sentence, he not only failed to demonstrate remorse but instead tried to justify his acts claiming that the execution was ordered by Dušan Orlović, Chief-of-Staff of the State Security of the Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina (SAO Krajina). As she pronounced the sentence, the president of the Trial Chamber, Justice Vinka Beraha-Nikićević stated that the Trial Chamber did not posses any reliable and unquestionable evidence that Dušan Orlović had indeed ordered the execution of the Rakić family and that consequently this claim made by the accused Budisavljević was not included in the dispositive of the sentence. The accused Budisavljević stated that he felt sorry for the Rakić family but that they had to be executed as traitors. When the President of the Trial Chamber asked him if there was another way to deal with the problem and to avoid the execution, Budisavljević replied: “My only mistake was that I did not form a court martial and had them executed right there in Lički Osik with a written order in my hands.”

The Trial Chamber established that at the end of October 1991, as members of the Ministry of the Interior of SAO Krajina and Territorial Defence Teslingrad, on the territory of Teslingrad (Lički Osik), the defendants arrested Mane Rakić and his children Milovan, Dragan, and Radmila on suspicion of possessing a radio station and cooperating with Croatian armed forces; that in the night between October 20 and 21, 1991, the accused Budisavljević, in conspiracy with the accused Malinović and Bogunović, went to Široka Kula to the house of Lucija Rakić, wife of Mane Rakić, where the accused Budisavljević shot and killed her while the other two accused stood guard, after which all three of them set on fire the house of Lucija Rakić and her body in it. Several days later the accused Budisavljević, Malinović, Bogunović, and Gruičić handcuffed the four members of the Rakić family who were imprisoned on the premises of the police station in Teslingrad, and in a vehicle driven by the accused Gruičić took them to the Golubnjača cave location where they shot and killed them and threw them into the cave.

The trial began on April 4, 2010 and in the course of nine (9) trial days a total of 14 witnesses, five of whom are victim/witnesses were heard by the Trial Chamber. One witness testified by means of video-link from the County Court in Zagreb, while the War Crimes Trial Chamber heard one witness from Croatia in Belgrade. The accused Budisavljević pleaded guilty to the commitment of the criminal act and provided the Trial Chamber with a detailed account of the role of each of the defendants in the events which are the subject matter of the indictment. The accused Bogunović and Gruičić did not deny their presence at the murder scene, but they testified that they did not shoot Mane, Dragan, Milovan, and Radmila Rakić. The accused Bogunović also denied standing guard and being armed at the time Lucija Rakić was killed but he testified that he did take part in setting her house and her body on fire. The Trial Chamber accepted the testimony of the accused Budisavljević in its entirety and indicated that his admission of guilt was corroborated by the evidence presented in the court room and that this defendant had no reason to incriminate other defendants with false claims because that could not have improved his own situation. The Trial Chamber did not accept the defence presented by the accused Malinović, Bogunović, and Gruičić and concluded that their statements were carefully calculated to help them avoid criminal responsibility. For that reason it is unclear why all four defendants received identical prison sentences, especially in the light of the fact that the accused Gruičić was not charged with the murder of Radmila Rakić, which was confirmed in the sentence. Also, the accused Budisavljević was deputy commander of the police station which implied his increased responsibility in the commitment of the war crime and his prison sentence should have been in proportion with his responsibility.