Higher Court in Belgrade: State of Serbia Responsible for War Crimes in Kukurovići Committed in 1993

The Higher Court in Belgrade rendered a judgment establishing the responsibility of the State of Serbia for the war crime committed in the village of Kukurovići (the Municipality of Priboj) on February 18th, 1993. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) would like to stress that this is the first judgment to establish the responsibility of the state for a war crime committed by members of Serb forces on the territory of Sandžak during the nineties.

The HLC initiated the lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia on behalf of 20 citizens of Kukurovići on July 9th, 2007. The HLC demanded that the court should oblige the state to pay compensation to the amount of 32,750,000 RSD, because of its responsibility for the attack by the Yugoslav Army on Kukurovići and the damages caused thereby to the property of the citizens of the village. 12 main hearing sessions were held in this case, during which 10 witnesses were heard. The witnesses described the terror that the Muslim population was exposed to by members of the Yugoslav Army after the Yugoslav Army arrived in this area in May 1992. Three eyewitnesses described the artillery attack launched on Kukurovići by the Yugoslav Army on February 18th, 1993.

The court established that units of the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav Army were stationed in the immediate vicinity of the village prior to the attack, and that the property of a number of citizens was destroyed during the artillery and infantry attack on Kukurovići that same day. The court overruled the objection relating to the effect of the statute of limitations raised by the Office of the Public Attorney of the Republic of Serbia during the proceedings, because the Republic of Serbia Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor was still undertaking actions for the purpose of identifying the perpetrators of this crime.

The court will decide on the amount of compensation should the Court of Appeals confirm this judgment.

Factual background:

The village of Kukurovići, once a predominantly Muslim village, is located at the border between three states, namely Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A great number of Yugoslav Army reserve soldiers were stationed in Kukurovići and other villages in the Municipality of Priboj located at the border, from May 8th 1992 until the end of the war in BiH.  Yugoslav Army soldiers abused the citizens of these villages everyday, searched their houses without a reason and threatened them.

On February 18th, 1993 at around 18:00, Yugoslav Army soldiers who were positioned around the village launched an attack on the village of Kukurovići. The citizens of this village, including children, escaped through the forest in the direction of Pljevlje and Priboj. Two days later, several citizens returned to Kukurovići to check what had happened to their houses. They found smouldering fires and slaughtered cattle. They also found the corpses of Uzeir Bulutović, Mušan Husović and Fatima Sarač, who did not manage to escape the village during the attack, inside some of the burnt houses.  On April 11th, 1993, when there were no citizens left in the village, another eight houses with auxiliary facilities were set on fire.

The investigative judge conducted inspections at the scene of the crime in both cases, but no citizens of Kukurovići were examined after this and no further investigations were conducted. On October 23rd, 2006, the HLC filed a criminal complaint against unidentified soldiers of the Yugoslav Army’s Užice Corps with the Office of the District Public Prosecutor in Užice. On October 27th, 2006, the Prosecutor’s Office in Užice informed the HLC that the case was being transferred to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor.