War Crimes Prosecutor drops the only investigation against a high-ranking military officer
On Friday, November 24, 2017, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), on behalf of the victims, filed an objection to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s (OWCP) decision not to prosecute General Dragan Živanović, the former commander of the 125th Motorized Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia (125th mtbr VJ). The OWCP rendered this decision on March 1, 2017, and, contrary to the law, did not deliver it to the legal representative of the victims; however, the very next day, the prosecutor, Dragoljub Stanković, who conducted the investigation, informed Živanović and his defense attorney regarding the decision. The decision to drop the only investigation against a high-ranking officer of the VJ in secret, and thus to subvert the victims’ right to react in a timely manner, clearly shows that the OWCP, contrary to the obligations accompanying its process of EU integration, does not intend to abandon its habitual practice of guaranteeing impunity for high-ranking persons in the military, police and political structures.
Before the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade there is an ongoing case (Ćuska Case) against former members of the 177th Military-Territorial Detachment (177th VTO), for war crimes against civilians committed in April and May 1999 in the villages of Ljubenić, Ćuška, Zahać and Pavljane in the municipality of Peć, when about 120 Albanian civilians were killed, hundreds of people expelled to Albania and almost all the houses in those villages burned. During the trial, it was established that the 177th VTO was under the command of the 125th mtbr VJ, whose commander was Živanović.
On the basis of the facts established in the Ćuška Case, on July 28, 2014, the OWCP issued an order to conduct an investigation against Major-General Dragan Živanović for committing war crimes against civilians in the villages of the Peć municipality, stating that Živanović was the commander of the 125th mtbr VJ and that he had engaged units of the 177th VTO for the execution of military tasks in the villages of the Peć municipality, that he was informed that members of the unit were committing murders, robberies and deportations of Albanian civilians, that these crimes were committed in an organized and planned manner, and that the orders for combat operations were received from the command of the 125th mtbr VJ. This is the only investigation known to the public that the OWCP has opened against any general of the VJ and on the basis of command responsibility.
The HLC points out that the rights of victims were systematically ignored during the investigation process, and thus, in contravention of the law, their legal representative was not called to attend the examination of some witnesses he himself had proposed, and that the prosecutor failed to decide on other evidence proposed by the victims’ legal representative. At the same time, Dragan Živanović, as well as his defense attorney, were notified of and invited to attend each of the OWCP’s activities. The prosecutor’s favoring of the suspect, at the expense of the rights of the victims, culminated on March 1, 2017, when he issued an order dropping the investigation against Živanović, on the grounds of an alleged lack of evidence for the charges. However, even then the OWCP failed to deliver the decision to the legal representative of the victims, although according to the law it is obliged to do so within 8 days (Article 51 CPC). In fact, the OWCP delivered the decision to the victims’ representative on November 16, 2017 – following a 252-day-long delay. On the other hand, to the defendant Živanović and his defense attorney the decision to drop the investigation was delivered the next day.
In the zone of responsibility of the 125th mtbr, whose commander was Major-General Dragan Živanović, more than 1800 civilians were killed, including over 500 women and children. On the basis of numerous items of evidence and the conclusions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as to the participation of the Yugoslav Army and the Serbian Ministry of the Interior in the murders, deportations, forced displacements, persecutions and other crimes against Kosovo Albanians in 1998 and 1999, on October 11, 2013, the HLC published the Dossier “125th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army”, in which evidence of crimes committed in the zone of responsibility of Živanović’s Brigade was presented. Likewise, the HLC filed two criminal charges against Dragan Živanović with the OWCP, the first for crimes committed in the Peć municipality, and the other for crimes committed in the village of Kraljane in the municipality of Đakovica.
General Živanović is just one of many brigade commanders whose responsibility for crimes in Kosovo has been pointed out repeatedly for years by the HLC. In 14 years of work, the OWCP has never filed an indictment against any mid-level or high-ranking military or police officer. Despite the provisions of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, which prescribes that “cases against high ranking suspects, de jure or de facto, should have priority in the Prosecutor’s work”, the latest decision of the OWCP shows that it does not intend to change the practice of non-processing any high-ranking war crimes suspects.