Kosovo Serb Acquitted Of War Crimes Charges
The District Court in Prizren on 4 September 2002 acquitted for lack of evidence Kosovo Serb Sasa Grkovic of several counts of war crimes against the civilian population. The decision of the panel, made up of two international and one local judge, was unanimous.
Explaining the Court’s decision, the international judge presiding the panel, Gerg Pluur, said there was no doubt that the crimes cited in the indictment did in fact take place, but that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that the defendant had committed them. Judge Pluur underlined that the task of the Court was to establish the truth, which it was unable to do because the testimony given by the witnesses for the prosecution was inconclusive.
Sasa Grkovic (31) of Orahovac was taken into custody on 2 June last year. He was indicted on 19 February 2002 and charged with war crimes against the civilian population under Article 142 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code. The Court heard 23 witnesses during the trial which opened on 29 July.
Based on the reports of its trial monitors, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) considers that Grkovic’s acquittal was grounded on the evidence. Though the trial itself was in accordance with the recognized standards of a fair trial, the HLC noted serious defects in the investigative stage of the proceedings. For instance, some reports on the questioning of witnesses were not signed by the investigating judge. These shortcomings could not be put right during the trial as the persons who conducted the proceedings are no longer employed in the Kosovo judiciary.
The HLC makes particular note of the fact that the defendant was in custody from 2 June 2001 and indicted only on 19 February this year, after expiry of the legally prescribed time period within which the indictment should have been brought.
Though Isuf Zhuniqi was cited by the prosecution as its star witness, his testimony was in contradiction with the statements he had made earlier, especially with regard to the identity of the defendant. On 6 June this year, Zhuniqi appeared as a witness at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic before The Hague Tribunal. When cross-examined by Milosevic on his written statement under Rule 92 bis, Zhuniqi named one Nenad Matic as the man who ordered the massacre of civilians in Bela Crkva village and personally shot Nesim and Shendet Popaj. When testifying at the Grkovic trial on 31 July, however, he alleged that Grkovic had given the order and killed the Popajs.
There can be no doubt that the crimes of which Sasa Grkovic was accused happened, but there is no doubt either that the evidence presented was insufficient for a guilty verdict. Those who ordered and committed the massacres remain uncovered and have not been brought to justice.
According to the prosecution, Grkovic, as a member of a group of armed and uniformed Serbs, allegedly committed the following crimes: forced Bela Crkva villagers out of their homes on 25 March 1999 and massacred unarmed civilians by shooting them dead with automatic weapons; surrounded over one hundred unarmed Albanian civilians in Mala Cruse on 26 March 1999, lined them up against a wall and shot them dead; robbed at gunpoint the villagers of Celina and Nogavac of their valuables on March 26 1999 and deliberately destroyed their personal papers; killed four Kosovo Albanians on 27 March 1999; and massacred Kosovo Albanian civilians in Celina on 28 March 1999.