Miroslav Vučković acquitted of charges of war crimes due to unjustifiable length of proceedings

Ten years after the first indictment was raised and after three retrials, Miroslav Vučković, a Serb, has been acquitted of all charges of war crimes committed against the Albanian population in the village of Gušavac/Gušac in Kosovo.

The Kosovo Supreme court acquitted Vučković of all responsibility for war crimes against civilians on the basis that ten years cannot be considered a reasonable period of time in which to finish a case, and is a violation of the defendant’s right to a timely and efficient trial. The acquittal was brought on October 7th 2009 by an internationalized chamber, presided by Justice Norbert Koster. Previously, the defence had appealed the judgement of the Mitrovica/Mitrovicë District Court, which sentenced Vučković to eight years’ of imprisonment.

The Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo believes that the Kosovo Supreme Court should have returned the case for a fourth retrial because the Mitrovica/Mitrovicë District Court had had not clarified the contradictions and inconsistencies in the testimonies of witness for the defence in the third retrial which the Supreme Court had ordered it to do. In addition, the Supreme Court disregarded evidence which was accepted in the previous three first instance trials, which included among others the testimony of a witness who positively identified Vučković as a participant in an attack by Serbian forces on the village of Gušavac/Gušac. The Supreme Court also disregarded the fact that looted property was found in May 1999 in the yard of Vučković’s house in Suvi Do/Suhodoll. This was acknowledged by the defence as evidence of the defendant’s participation in looting valuables from Albanians and at the proposal of the defence, Vučković  was sentenced to four years’ and one month imprisonment for serious theft, which the defendant had already spent in custody.

In the indictment Vučković was accused of participating with others, taking advantage of the helplessness and difficult situation of the Albanian population of the village of Gušavac/Gušac, in setting light to, and looting, Albanian houses, and stealing all movable property belonging to Abita Sahitija, including a lorry, with the intention of causing fear among the Albanian population so that it would abandon the village.

The third retrial before the Mitrovica/Mitrovicë District Court lasted from August 15th 2007 until May 23rd 2008, when the court handed down a judgement sentencing Vučković to eight years’ of imprisonment. The defendant, who was not being held in custody, did not attend the court when the judgement was made. The second instance hearing was initiated by appeal of the defence, who claimed that the defendant could not have been a member of the armed forces and have participated in the event, with which he was accused, because he is an invalid and walks with the aid of a stick.