Anonymization of Judgments in Cases of War Crimes is Illegal
The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, acting upon the appeal filed by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), has found that the practice of anonymization of judgments is in violation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and the Law on Personal Data Protection. In his Decision, the Commissioner issued an order to the Higher Court in Belgrade to deliver to the HLC the judgment without illegal anonymization, under the threat of the imposition of a fine.
Pursuant to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, the HLC filed a request with the Higher Court in February 2012 to deliver them the judgment in the case of the Gnjilane Group. The Higher Court failed to act upon this request. Consequently, the Commissioner rendered a ruling upon the appeal filed by the HLC, ordering the court to deliver the judgment requested, but to protect the personal information regarding persons whose right to privacy would thus be violated, prior to delivering the judgment in question. This information relates to home address, unique personal identification number, date of birth, and similar information
Following the ruling rendered by the Commissioner, the Higher Court delivered the judgment in question to the HLC. However, it again included large redacted parts (blacked out spaces), including the first and last names of the accused. Because of this, the HLC had to address the Commissioner again with a request for the enforcement of the ruling, which was upheld by the Commissioner. His Enforcement Decision contains an order issued to the Higher Court to deliver the judgment requested to the HLC, under threat of the imposition of a fine, in which only the information indicated by the Commissioner shall be anonymized.
The Commissioner, in the reasoning of his Decision, particularly stressed that this is a case of a judgment for war crimes, and that the intention of the Commissioner in the original ruling was certainly not to protect the names of the accused, but only certain items of personal information, such as the unique personal identification numbers and addresses. The Commissioner also stated that the publication of the names of the accused in the judgment cannot represent excessive processing of personal data forbidden by the law.
The HLC also observes that the anonymization enforced by the Higher Court is not only without legal grounds, but even fails to respect the principle of the public nature of court proceedings. War crimes trials are public; therefore, the information from anonymized judgments is available to the public through the media, and individuals or organizations like the HLC, which monitor war crimes trials. Moreover, indictments in these cases are available to the public in their original form at the web page of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor.
The HLC also uses this opportunity to call on the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court of Serbia, which also enforce this practice, to respect the ruling rendered by the Commissioner and terminate their illegal practice of judgment anonymization in cases of war crimes.