Serbia Has Obligation to Locate Mass Gravesite with Victims from Ovčara and to Punish JNA Officers

Serbia Has Obligation to Locate Mass Gravesite with Victims from Ovčara and to Punish JNA Officers

Logo FHPOn November 20th, 2014, it will be 23 years since the crime at the “Ovčara” farm near Vukovar was committed. In this incident, members of the Serb Radical Party volunteer units under the control of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) executed 265 Croat civilians and prisoners of war. The bodies of 48 of the victims have not been found to date.

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) calls for the Government of the Republic of Serbia to open and investigate the JNA archives for the purpose of disclosing the location at which the bodies of those killed at Ovčara are concealed, and also to publicly invite and encourage the persons who possess relevant information to point to the location where the mortal remains of the victims are concealed. The HLC calls for the state institutions to prosecute not only the direct perpetrators, that is to say, certain members of the “Leva supoderica” volunteer unit, but also their superiors, officers of the former JNA, who directly contributed to the commission of this crime.

Following the completion of army operations in Vukovar and its vicinity, on November 20th, 1991, the JNA took more than 265 injured and sick persons, including civilians and members of the Croat armed forces, from Vukovar hospital, and transported them to the JNA barracks in Vukovar and then to the “Ovčara” farm located some five kilometres south of Vukovar. From the moment they arrived until the hours of the evening, members of the Serb forces, under the supervision of the JNA, abused, beat, humiliated, and tortured injured people from the Vukovar hospital.

After the JNA forces withdrew from Ovčara in the evening of November 20th on the orders of Lieutenant Mile Mrkšić, members of the “Leva supoderica” unit transported most of the victims during the night of November 20th to 21st, in groups of 10 to 20 people, to a location between the “Ovčara” farm and Grabovo, where they executed more than 200 of them. Besides wounded members of the Croat forces, they also killed civilians, women and children: Ružica Markobašić was 32 years old and visibly pregnant, Igor Kačić was 16, Dragutin Balog 17, and Vedran Galić and Tomislav Baumgertner were 18 years old.

Most of the victims were buried in the mass grave located at the Grabovo site (193 persons have been identified); others were exhumed at other nearby locations (17 persons), while the bodies of 48 victims have not been found to date.

On May 5th, 2009, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) rendered a final judgment for the execution of civilians and wounded persons at Ovčara, against Lieutenant Mile Mrkšić, sentencing him to 20 years imprisonment. Major Veselin Šljivančanin was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on December 8th, 2012 for aiding and abetting the torture of Croat prisoners of war at the “Ovčara” farm. The Republic of Serbia War Crimes Chamber rendered a judgment on June 23rd, 2010 against members of the Territorial Defence and “Leva supoderica” unit convicting them to long-term prison sentences for the commission of the crime against prisoners of war at Ovčara.

The HLC uses this opportunity to remind the public of the facts established in the cases prosecuted before the Belgrade War Crimes Chamber and the ICTY, which indisputably pointed to the responsibility of a number of officers and non-commissioned officers of the JNA for the incidents at Ovčara. Moreover, one of the persons indicted for this crime before the ICTY, Major Veselin Šljivančanin, indicated in his appeal that “there were officers at Ovčara who had a real possibility and were in a better position than (he) was to take measures to stop the abuse of the prisoners of war, and that they would have had good reason to take such measures”. Šljivančanin then stated the names of Lieutenant-Colonel Milorad Vojnović, Lieutenant-Colonel Miodrag Panić, Captain Dragan Vezmarović and Captain Dragi Vukosavljević.

The facts and evidence pointing to the responsibility of the JNA oblige the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor to initiate investigation against all officers and non-commissioned officers of the JNA responsible for the crime at Ovčara, thus providing the whole truth about this crime and justice for the families of the victims. The institutions of the Republic of Serbia,the first of which being the Ministry of Defence and the Military Security Agency, also have an obligation to help establish the fates of the missing by opening the army archives and publishing the facts which would help in locating the mortal remains of the victims of Ovčara, and by sending out a public call to the former members of the JNA who possess information on the location of the mass gravesite to deliver the information they possess to the respective institutions in Serbia and Croatia.