Prison Regime for War Crimes in Serbia Represents Mockery of Victims’ Suffering

Prison Regime for War Crimes in Serbia Represents Mockery of Victims’ Suffering

Slobodan Medić, the former Commander of the “Scorpions” unit, who was convicted of the war crime in which six Muslim boys and men from Srebrenica were killed, died in a car accident near Sremska Mitrovica on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013. At the time of the accident, Medić was serving his prison sentence of 20 years in the Sremska Mitrovica Penitentiary. As the media have reported, Medić was on provisional release, because he was granted the right to leave prison for holidays on account of his good behaviour. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that war crimes trials in Serbia are being trivialized by granting privileges to perpetrators of war crimes, and that the sufferings of victims are thereby being negated.

The HLC points out that, among those successor countries of the former Yugoslavia which are dealing with the legacy of war crimes, Serbia is the only one in which war criminals obtain privileges already in the early phases of serving prison sentences, for example, the right to an annual leave outside the prison, leave out to town, etc. In Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, persons convicted of serious criminal offences may obtain such privileges only after they have served half of the sentence imposed.

The HLC stresses that the legal regulations in the Republic of Serbia which determine the treatment of persons convicted of war crimes do not match the gravity of these criminal offences; hence the treatment of persons convicted of war crimes is defined on the basis of the same criteria used, for instance, in cases of persons convicted of construction without a building permit. In fact, according to the Law on Enforcement of Prison Sentences and the Standard Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, treatment program, sorting and subsequent sorting of convicts, the right to provisional release may be granted only to those prisoners who are in an open or semi-open imprisonment programme; and the behaviour of convicts is of key importance for the assignment to one of these two programmes.

After receiving information that one of the persons found guilty in the case of Suva Reka and sentenced to the maximum prison sentence of 20 years, had spent his weekends outside the prison, in August 2013 the HLC sent a request to the Directorate for Enforcement of Prison Sentences demanding information on the granting of the right to provisional release, with respect to all of the persons who had been finally convicted of war crimes. The Directorate dismissed the request filed by the HLC, by referring to the duty to protect the convicts’ personal information, despite the fact that the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance allows an exception from the right to protect this information in the case of “an event of public interest” or “if a person has given rise to a request for information about him/her by his/her behaviour, especially regarding his/her private life”.

By granting privileges to persons convicted of the most serious criminal offences, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia trivialize war crimes trials. In this way, the victims’ right to justice is being cruelly betrayed, which will result in them refusing to appear before courts in Serbia. Therefore, the HLC demands that the responsible authorities urgently adopt amendments which will make the rules for granting privileges to persons convicted of war crimes more strict, for the purpose of protecting the integrity of war crimes trials.