25 years since the Kukurovići crime
Victims punished for unwillingness of State to prosecute those responsible for this crime
On February 18 2018, 25 years have passed since the Yugoslav Army (VJ)’s attack on the Sandžak village of Kukurovići. In this attack, almost the entire village was demolished, and three citizens of Bosniak nationality were killed. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Sandžak Committee) would like to draw attention to the fact that even 25 years after this crime against civilians – citizens of Serbia, nobody has been found responsible, and the state of Serbia has not provided the victims with adequate recognition and reparations.
The village of Kukurovići is located in Serbia, in the municipality of Priboj, right along the borders between Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Montenegro. At the beginning of 1993, it was inhabited by an entirely Bosniak population. Although there was an armed conflict in the territory of BiH at the given period, there were no war activities in the area around Kukurovići, nor did any armed formations exist in the village. Nevertheless, at the end of 1992, the positions on the hills around the village were occupied by members of the Užice Corps of the VJ. Continuous threats and harassment followed towards these non-Serb villagers, which forced many to leave their homes. The persecution of the population culminated on February 18, when a mortar and infantry attack on the village was launched. The houses were burned down and destroyed, and three people were killed in the attack: Fatima Sarač, Uzeir Bulutović and Mušan Husović.
Although it is clear from witnesses’ statements that, except for members of the VJ, there were no other armed groups that would have been able to commit this crime, even two and a half decades after the event none of the suspects have been identified. It is now 12 years since the HLC filed a criminal complaint, but the case is still in the investigation stage.
Neither the civil proceedings initiated by the HLC in the name of the closest relatives of the Kukurovići villagers who were killed nor those initiated on behalf of villagers whose houses were destroyed, have led to the payment of damages, since the court has rejected all the claims as outdated. Namely, even though we are dealing here with the criminal offence of war crimes against civilian populations, the prosecution of which, according to the law, never becomes obsolete, nor the claim for damages, the court has nevertheless chosen to apply general deadlines for the expiration of claims (three to five years). On the grounds that the state can be liable for damages only if the perpetrator of a criminal offence has been convicted as result of a criminal trial, the court paradoxically stated that there was no obstacle to prosecution. In this way, the victims have been punished for the unwillingness of the state to prosecute and convict those responsible for this crime, while the unsuccessful struggle for justice, which has lasted now for a quarter of a century, has seen many of the victims already passed away without their achieving satisfaction for the damage suffered.
The HLC and the Sandžak Committee underline that the honest path towards achieving a just society in Serbia and equality for all its citizens, regardless of their nationality or religion, must lead through the decisive resolution of the legacy of the crimes from the 1990s that were carried out with the support of the state. The HLC and the Sandžak Committee therefore call on the political leadership in Serbia to change its policy of denial, and on the competent authorities to complete the investigation of this and other crimes against Bosniaks, as well as to adopt appropriate legal solutions and provide adequate reparations for the victims of these crimes.