Trial for the Crime in Trnje – Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
Only two trial days have been held since the filing of the indictment for the war crime in the case of Trnje two years ago, while the Ministry of Defence has been refusing since the beginning of the trial to act on the final decision rendered by the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance (Commissioner) and inform the public about the present status of the two defendants in the Serbian Army (VS). The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that the delays in the beginning of the trial and the unlawful acts of the respective Ministry degrade the trials for the crimes committed during the nineteen-nineties and discourage victims who have been waiting for justice for 16 years now.
The first preliminary hearing in the case at hand was scheduled for February 20th, 2014. However, this hearing was adjourned owing to the failure of the accused to appear before the court, as were the three following hearings – on the first two occasions the hearings were adjourned because of alleged medical issues, for which certificates from the military health-care institutions were provided. The preliminary hearing was finally held on April 23rd, 2014. The first main trial session was then scheduled for almost a year later, namely for February 24th, 2015, and it was held as scheduled. However, the following five main hearing sessions were delayed owing to the illness of the judge, the failure of the injured parties to appear before the court because the court had sent them the subpoenas too late, and the alleged health problems of the accused Rajko Kozlina.
At the time when the indictment was raised, Gavrilović and Kozlina were active duty soldiers in the VS. The HLC sent a request to the VS Chief of General Staff, Ljubiša Diković, in November 2013, demanding that these individuals indicted of war crimes be suspended from military service in accordance with the Law on the Serbian Armed Forces. As a matter of fact, according to Article 77 of this Law, a professional military person can be removed from duty if criminal charges have been brought against him/her and the crime is of such a nature that it would be harmful to the interests of the service that such a person should remain on duty”. The HLC has not received any anwer to this request to date.
The Ministry rejected the request for information of public importance filed by the HLC regarding the status of the accused in the VS following the raising of the indictment, stating that the information requested is protected as personal information and information “relevant for the defence of the state”. Deciding on the appeal lodged by the HLC, the Commissioner dismissed the arguments advanced by the Ministry and ordered it to provide the HLC with the information requested within five days. The deadline set for the enforcement of the Commissioner’s decision expired more than 16 months ago, and the Ministry still has not delivered the information requested. The Commissioner finally rendered a conclusion on approving enforcement on 22 September 2015 in which the Commissioner ordered the Ministry to deliver the information requested to the HLC within two days under threat of paying a fine. The HLC has not yet received a response from the respective Ministry.
Gavrilović and Kozlina are charged by the indictment with killing at least 27 civilians, citizens of the village of Trnje, most of whom were older men, women, and children, including a four-year-old boy, near Suva Reka in Kosovo; which offence they committed as former members of the 549th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army (549th VJ MtBr), together with other members of the Logistics Batallion of this Brigade on March 25th,1999.
According to the indictment, Pavle Gavrilović issued the order that “no one should remain alive” in the village, while Rajko Kozlina shot one old man in the head in order to show the other soldiers how to shoot civilians. Two former members of the 549th VJ MtBr testified under protective measures about the role and the responsibility of Gavrilović and Kozlina 13 years ago, in the case against Slobodan Milošević (K-41 and K-32), and again in 2007 in the case against Milan Milutinović et al. (K-82 and K-54).
In 2008, the HLC filed a criminal complaint against 11 members of the 549th MtBr of the VJ because of the suspicion that they committed the crime in Trnje.
In March 2013, the HLC published a Dossier on the operations of the 549th VJ MtBr, which describes the participation of the members of this unit, including Gavrilović and Kozlina, in the crime in Trnje.