Acquittal in Gradiška Case: New Instance of Omissions in Work of Prosecutor’s Office and Court

Acquittal in Gradiška Case:  New Instance of Omissions in Work of Prosecutor’s Office and Court

Logo FHPThe Higher Court in Belgrade rendered a judgment in the Gradiška Case on October 13th, 2016, acquitting the accused Goran Šinik of charges that he had committed an act of war crime against a civilian population. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that this judgement is the outcome of an unfounded indictment filed by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP), as well as of inadequate control exercised by the Trial Chamber of the Higher Court in Belgrade in the phase of judgment confirmation; and that this case represents a paradigmatic example of how an image of productivity of the war crimes judiciary is being fabricated, by raising indictments which are doomed to failure.

By the indictment filed by the OWCP on April 8th, 2014, Goran Šinik was charged that on September 2nd, 1992, in the place known as Bok Jankovac (Municipality of Gradiška, BiH) in the vicinity of the town dump site, as a member of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, he killed a Croat civilian, Marijan Vištica. The accused took the victim, Marijan Vištica, off a bus going to Croatia in the late afternoon hours in Gradiška, and pushed him into a car parked right there, in which Nebojša Prčić and Predrag Sladojević, acquaintances of the accused, had already been sitting. Then, they drove to the place known as Bok Jankovac and stopped near the city dump site on the bank of the Sava River, where the accused descended from the car together with the victim, Vištica, while Prčić and Sladojević drove back to Gradiška. Following this, as the indictment alleges, the accused Šinik “killed the victim, Vištica, in an undetermined manner.”

In the reasons for the judgment, the Presiding Judge, Vladimir Duruz, stated that the court found that there was not enough evidence proving the allegation that the accused had committed the act he had been charged with. The Trial Chamber went on to conclude that the OWCP did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had killed the victim, Marijan Vištica. Namely, during the proceedings, the Court established that, at the time of the incident, there was a state of armed conflict, the accused was a member of the Army of the Republic of Srpska and was present in Gradiška, and he did take the victim Marijan Vištica together with Prčić and Sladojević to Bok Jankovac. However, according to the findings of the Trial Chamber, the fact that the accused took Marijan Vištica to Bok Jankovac, in the company of his acquaintances Prčić and Sladojević, was not sufficient by itself to allow the Court to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had, in fact, killed the victim. The Prosecution failed to offer other evidence supporting this claim. The victim’s body has never been found and there was only one witness who stated that he saw the body and recognized the victim. The statement given by this witness, however, was not corroborated by the statements given by other witnesses, and so the Court was not able to accept it. At the same time, witnesses Prčić and Sladojević denied that the behavior of the accused on the day alleged in the indictment pointed to the conclusion that he had any intention to kill Marijan Vištica.

This judgment was an inevitable consequence of the indictment, which was not founded on credible evidence. The responsibility for such an outcome lies primarily with the OWCP, Deputy Prosecutor Snežana Stanojković in particular, who filed the indictment; but also with the Higher Court in the Belgrade Department for War Crimes Trial Chamber, which confirmed such an indictment without previously conducting a comprehensive analysis of the evidence presented to support it. The only fact that one could establish from the indictment and supporting evidence about the fate of the victim Marijan Vištica, was that he was last seen in the company of the accused, and of Prčić and Sladojević, and that he was proclaimed dead in 1999, because there was no evidence pointing to the exact moment in time, location or the manner in which the victim was killed. Rather, the indictment states that the murder was executed “in an undetermined manner”.

The HLC has already pointed to the shortcomings noted in this indictment in its 2014 and 2015 War Crimes Trials in Serbia Report (page 48), in which it particularly emphasized the trend of raising and confirming indictments that are not well-prepared, which leads not only to the stalling of the proceedings, but also to acquittals (see the Tenja II , Čelebići and Camp Luka cases). The most recent in a row of such judgments is a clear result of the lack of strategy in the OWCP and an attempt to conceal it by filing as many indictments as possible regardless of their outcome. The HLC further warns that the consequences of the trend described herein could prove to be very negative, because time and resources have been spent for too long on trials which do not contribute to the establishment of facts about the past, and instead of offering justice and satisfaction to the victims and their families, only bring additional trauma and humiliation.