Court of Appeal in Belgrade does not give credence to Bosniak victims
The Court of Appeal in Belgrade has quashed the interim judgment of the Higher Court in Belgrade, which found the Yugoslav Army (YA) responsible for the war crime which occurred in the village of Kukurovići on 18th February 1993, and remanded the case for retrial. The Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) notes that this decision shows that Serbian courts are continuing with their practice of shielding the state institutions from responsibility for past human rights violations.
In a brief rationale for the decision, the Court of Appeal states that it has not been possible to clearly determine which units carried out the attack on Kukurovići during which three village residents were killed, because ”the village is located in the tri-border area of Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina“ and because the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor is still conducting the pre-trial proceedings and collecting information concerning the perpetrators. The Court of Appeal in its ruling dismisses the view of the Higher Court that the statute of limitations was suspended in this case, which would have allowed the residents of Kukurovići to claim compensation from the Republic of Serbia. The Court of Appeal holds that the statute of limitations may be suspended only by a final criminal judgment, and considers the pre-trial proceedings, which are being conducted by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor in order to identify the perpetrators of this crime, are not sufficient to indicate that the mortar attack on the said village amounts to a criminal offence.
The HLC also notes that in the course of the trial conducted before the Higher Court in Belgrade, three village residents, eye-witnesses of the attack, gave clear and convincing testimonies concerning the YA attack on the village. They spoke about three camps the YA set up in and around the village, and determined the direction from which mortar and infantry gunfire was coming on the day in question. The village residents also testified that before the event in question, Užice Corps troops ill-treated the Muslim residents of Kukurovići on a daily basis, and physically abused them only because of their ethnicity.
The HLC emphasizes that the Court of Appeal ignored the residents’ testimonies pointing to YA responsibility for the attack and deaths of three villagers, and offered no explanation of why it did so.
The Higher Court established in its first-instance judgment that Užice Corps units were stationed in the immediate vicinity of the village before the attack took place, and that the mortar and infantry attack on Kukurovići resulted in the destruction of the property of a large number of villagers.
The village of Kukurovići is located in the Priboj municipality, in the area bordering with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is mainly inhabited by Muslims. In May 1992, members of the YA Užice Corps came to the village and positioned themselves in three locations in and around the village. On 18th February 1993, at about 18:00 hours, members of the YA Užice Corps attacked the village of Kukurovići from their positions around the village. Uzeir Bulutović, Mušan Husović and Fatima Sarač were killed in the attack. Village residents fled towards Pljevlja and Priboj. When they returned to the village two days later, they found the charred remains of their homes and killed livestock. In April of the same year, after all the residents had left the village, another eight houses were burned down. Following the two incidents, an investigating judge performed an on-site investigation into the matter, but none of the residents were interviewed nor was any other investigative action taken afterwards. On 23rd October 2006, the HLC filed a criminal complaint against unknown members of the YA Užice Corps with the Office of the Public District Prosecutor in Užice. On 27th October 2006, this Office informed the HLC that the case had been referred to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor.
On 9th July 2007, the HLC filed a compensation lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia on behalf of 20 residents of Kukurovići. The HLC requested the court to order the Republic of Serbia, because of its responsibility for this attack, to pay RSD 32,750,000 in compensation for the damage caused by the attack. The court heard 10 witnesses, who described how YA members, after stationing themselves in the area in May 1992, terrorised local Muslims, and three eye-witnesses who described the mortar attack on Kukurovići by the YA.