22 Years since the VJ Crime in Kukurovici
February 18, 2015 marks the 22nd anniversary since the Yugoslav Army’s attack on the village of Kukurovici near Priboj, where the elderly Uzeir Bulutovic, Musan Husovic and Fatima Sarac were killed. To date, the institutions have not identified the perpetrators, nor have the victims’ families received the status of civilian victims of war.
The village of Kukurovici, with its mainly Muslim population, is located between Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. From the beginning of the war in May 1992, members of the Uzice corps of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) were stationed in and around the village. VJ members intimidated the villagers on a daily basis, searched and shot at their homes, robbed and tortured them, creating a sense of constant fear, which is why a large number of villagers fled their homes. On February 18, 1993, members of the VJ conducted a mortar attack on the village, which killed Uzeir Bulutovic, Musan Husovic and Fatima Sara. Other residents fled from the village, and their property was destroyed and burned. Two days later, several villagers returned to the village and found charred remains and slaughtered cattle. In the torched houses they found the bodies of these three elderly people. In April of the same year, when there were no longer any residents left in the village, eight more houses were burned.
In October 2006, the HLC filed with the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Uzice a criminal complaint against unidentified members of the Uzice Corps. A few days later, the Prosecutor’s Office in Uzice informed the HLC that the case had been forwarded to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP), where it remains at the pre-trial stage. To date, not a single indictment has been issued in relation to the crime in Kukurovici.
For years, victims and families of victims of the crime in Kukurovici have been trying to exercise their rights in accordance with international standards for the protection of victims of human rights violations. In 2007, on behalf of the families of the killed villagers and displaced residents, the HLC filed three compensation lawsuits against the Republic of Serbia, of which only one has been completed – the complaint of the children of the late Uzeir Bulutovic, which was rejected on the grounds of the statute of limitations. The judgment of the High Court in Belgrade on April 9, 2013, established Serbia’s responsibility for war crimes in the village Kukurovici. This was the first judgment declaring the state’s responsibility for war crimes committed by Serbian forces on the territory of Sandžak during the 1990s. The High Court found that prior to the attack, VJ units were stationed in the immediate vicinity of the village, and that during the mortar and infantry attack on Kukurovici on that day, the property of many local residents was destroyed. The High Court rejected the objection about the statute of limitations filed during the proceedings by the Serbian Attorney-General, stating that the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia was still involved in an ongoing legal process of taking actions aimed at identifying the perpetrators of this crime. The High Court’s judgment, however, was overturned by the Court of Appeals in Belgrade on March 27, 2014, and the case was returned for retrial.
In addition, according to the Law on Civilian Invalids of War, because they were killed by the Serbian security forces, the victims of the Kukurovici crime are not entitled to the status of civilian victims of war. The draft of the new law retains most of the discriminatory provisions of the existing law. If it is adopted, the families of the victims of the Kukurovici crime will not be recognized as civilian victims of war. The HLC welcomes the decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia from 2012 to adopt and implement the Programme for the return of refugees and displaced persons from the municipality of Priboj, and thus provide the first official recognition of the injustices inflicted on the residents of Kukurovici and of other Muslim villages which experienced a fate similar to that of Kukurovici.
The HLC and the Sandzak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Sandzak Committee) jointly invite other institutions of the Republic of Serbia to take measures within their jurisdiction and ensure that the victims of these crimes be given the recognition they deserve:
- -The Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs should abandon the current draft of the law and propose a new solution that will acknowledge and recognize the families of the victims of Kukurovici as civilian victims of war;
- -The Higher Court in Belgrade should, within a reasonable time, issue a decision on the compensation lawsuits filed in 2007 against Serbia by the residents of Kukurovici;
- -The OWCP should finalize a long-standing investigation into the crimes in Kukurovici and prosecute those responsible for the crimes in this village.
The HLC and the Sandzak Committee wish to remind the relevant parties that determining the responsibility for serious violations of human rights and ensuring the protection of victims of human rights violations is a precondition for the rule of law after armed conflict. The HLC and the Sanzak Committee invite institutions to recognize the victims of Kukurovici and of other places in Sandzak who suffered during the 1990s, and in this way confirm their declarative commitment to enhancing the rule of law and building a culture of human rights.