Bosnian War Crime Cases Halted as Ageing Defendants Die
“The court does not work slowly. It acts on all indictments filed by the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina without delay and has the capacity to process them. However, the indictment filing dynamics and timing comes under the exclusive responsibility of the Bosnian state prosecution,” the state court said.
The prosecution insisted meanwhile that it works according to the official state strategy for processing war crimes cases, and that suspects’ deaths of illnesses are beyond its control.
‘Justice came too late’
The last defendant who died was Milan Bogdanovic, who was acquitted under a first-instance verdict in March 2019. Because of his death, an appeal against his acquittal is now impossible.
Cases closed: the deceased defendants
The following suspects died over the past five years before a final verdict in their cases. They are listed with the location of their alleged crimes.
- Milan Bogdanovic: Zvornik
- Jovan Popovic: Visegrad
- Izet Arifovic: Srebrenica and Bratunac
- Mirko Raguz, Ivica Markovic: Stolac
- Cvjetko Popadic, Radivoje Djordjic: Lokanj
- Vinko Kondic, Mico Prastalo: Kljuc
- Dragomir Tintor, Zdravko Antonic: Prijedor
- Gvozden Lukic: Vlasenica and Milici
- Nedjad Coric: Mostar
- Ostoja Balaban: Bosanski Novi
- Vlado Stjepanovic: Bijeljina
- Dragan Lubarda: Rogatica
- Fahrudin Hadziosmanagic-Tadic: Bosanska Krupa
- Aleksandar Petrovic: Kotor Varos
- Fahrudin Alic: Sarajevo
- Novak Mitrovic: Zavidovici
Bogdanovic had been accused, as former commander of the Sixth Company of Special Police Units at the Public Security Station in Zvornik, of being responsible for capturing Bosniak men following the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995 and taking them away to various locations, as well as enabling others to abuse and kill them.
Victims’ associations say that they understand that the passage of time cannot be halted, but argued that investigative bodies should have started working on war crime cases much earlier.
Zlatko Prkic of the Croatian Association of Detainees from Vares, said that many perpetrators will not live long enough to see convictions.
“Justice should have been sought, but that was not done at the time when criminals should have answered for their crimes,” said Prkic.
Many representatives of victims’ associations also insisted that politicians have been trying to impede and slow down the process, allegedly by exerting pressure on the state prosecution.
Prkic alleged that victims’ groups had prepared materials for investigative bodies and consulted top-level experts, who told them there was sufficient evidence to file indictments in certain cases, but that this was not done even after 15 or 20 years, displaying disregard for the suffering of the victims.
Vinko Lale of the Association of Detainees of Birac Region said it was a problem when indictments are filed charging suspects who are already seriously ill.
“If we consider this from a human aspect, it is horrible to see indictments be imposed on people suffering from serious diseases. On the other hand, another problem is the fact that indictments are filed 25 years after the events of the war. That is absurd,” Lale said.
Bakira Hasecic, the president of the Women – Victims of War association, claimed meanwhile that the authorities are “buying time so these people will go unpunished”.
“It is obvious that they are waiting for victims, witnesses and war criminals to die,” Hasecic said.
‘As time passes, people forget’
Analyst Vehid Sehic, of the Forum of Tuzla Citizens, said that in general, after the war no efforts were made to prosecute all war crimes suspects as there was a no political will in that period, when some perpetrators were considered heroes and there was resistance among the public to prosecuting them.
“The more time passes, the fewer chances we shall have to prosecute and sentence those people, because we have no legal standing to call them war criminals if the proceedings against them are discontinued,” Sehic said.
“Time is not an ally to justice in any proceedings. Nobody can influence that. We must be aware that many war criminals will not live to see earthly justice,” he warned.
Aleksandra Letic of the Helsinki Board for Human Rights said that defendants must be in good enough health to stand trial and capable of following the proceedings in court, but argued that there should be an independent commission which would evaluate whether they are genuinely too ill, or if the proceedings are being fraudulently prolonged.
“What we are seeing today is the dragging-out of proceedings… tormenting witnesses who are waiting to give their statements,” Letic said.
Krstan Simic, a former judge at the state-level Constitutional Court, said that the issue is dangerous because Bosnian society as a whole has underestimated the importance of war crimes cases as a good foundation for reconciliation, as well as the fact that verdicts offer justice and satisfaction to the victims.
“The biological clock issue is not the only one. That is only one fact, because people are dying. But there is also a timescale in which it becomes harder and harder to prove crimes, because the passage of time also makes people forget facts,” Simic pointed out.
He argued however that it is still not too late if the authorities are willing to find the methods and resources to complete the remaining cases.
Sehic argued that the fact that suspects and witnesses are dying should inspire the judiciary to do its job better, because the passage of time cannot be countered.
“It is therefore very important to work on war crime cases as efficiently as possible. Something can surely be done to prosecute those cases more efficiently so they could be completed,” he said.