WE REMEMBER: 30 years since the crime in Štrpci

WE REMEMBER: 30 years since the crime in Štrpci

Strpci---pamtimo-srOn Monday, February 27, 2023, three decades have passed since the crime in Štrpci. Thirty years ago, members of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), at the railway station in Štrpci (BiH), took 20 passengers from the train on the Belgrade-Bar route and killed them. In the past year, courts in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have issued three first-instance convictions for this crime. However, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), Women in Black, the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights remind that even after 30 years, the families of the victims have not received justice.

On February 27, 1993, members of the VRS kidnapped and killed 19 citizens of the FRY and one unidentified person. Of the FRY citizens, 18 were Bosniaks and one was a Croat. They all lived in Serbia and Montenegro – in Belgrade, Prijepolje, Bijelo Polje and Podgorica. The victims of this crime are: Esad Kapetanović, Iljaz Ličin, Fehim Bakija, Šećo Softić, Rifat Husović, Halil Zupčević, Senad Đečević, Jusuf Rastoder, Ismet Babačić, Tomo Buzov, Adem Alomerović, Muhedin Hanić, Safet Preljević, Džafer Topuzović, Rasim Ćorić, Fikret Memović, Fevzija Zeković, Nijazim Kajević, Zvjezdan Zuličić and one unknown person. The oldest victim was 59 years old, and the youngest was 16.

To date, the remains of only four victims of crimes have been found. The body of Halil Zupčević was found at the end of 2009 on the shores of Lake Perućac, and the remains of Rasim Ćorić, Jusuf Rastoder and Iljaz Ličina were found in the same lake in 2010.

So far, 14 people have been convicted of this crime, of which only two with the final verdict. Nebojša Ranisavljević, commander of a volunteer platoon called “Resavac” or “Skakavac” [Grasshopper] which was part of the VRS Višegrad Intervention Brigade, was sentenced to 15 years in prison  before the High Court in Bijelo Polje (Montenegro) in 2002. Mićo Jovičić, a member of the Višegrad Brigade of the VRS, against which proceeding was conducted before the Court of BiH, pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

On October 21, 2022, the Court of BiH sentenced seven defendants for the crime in Štrpci to prison sentences of 13 years each, and acquitted the first defendant Luka Dragičević, commander of the Višegrad Brigade of the VRS, on the grounds that the Prosecutor’s Office failed to prove his guilt. On January 19, 2023, the same court sentenced Boban Inđić, commander of the Višegrad Intervention Brigade, to 15 years in prison for his involvement in crime in Štrpci.

On February 7, 2023, the High Court in Belgrade issued a first-instance verdict sentencing the defendants Gojko Lukić, Duško Vasiljević and Jovan Lipovac to 10 years in prison, and Dragana Đekić to five years in prison, lower than those issued by the courts in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina for the same crime. The sentence is not in line with the usual practice of the High Court in Belgrade in regard to the sentences for murder of civilians during the war.

The families of the victims, most of whom are citizens of Serbia, are still not obtaining the status of family members of civilian victims of war, which would provide them with modest social support, as well as recognition of the suffering they have survived. The current Law on Veterans Disability Protection on several levels prevents the acquisition of the status of civilian victims of war and civilian disabled person, and in many ways discriminates  civilian victims in relation to military ones. Among other, victims of crimes in Štrpci are not recognized by the Republic of Serbia as civilian victims of war because they died on the territory of another country. The inadequacy of the existing legal solution and its discriminatory implementation have been pointed out for years by victims and their associations, the HLC and other non-governmental organisations.

In 2009, the local self-government in Prijepolje erected a memorial dedicated to nine people killed from Prijepolje and granted a symbolic financial assistance to their families. Local officials participate every year in organising and commemorating the anniversary of the abduction, which is one of the few positive examples of the official commemoration of victims from the minority ethnic community. However, the crime in Štrpci, as well as other crimes committed by Serbian forces, were omitted from the dominant state narratives on the wars of the 1990s.

Also, the same Ministry, which has been in charge of monumental culture since 2018, and the municipality of Novi Beograd are asked to install a new memorial plaque for Tomo Buzov with an appropriate message on the context of his suffering and a clear condemnation of the removal of the previous plaque. The board has recently been removed, and for now it remains unknown why.

The Humanitarian Law Center, Women in Black, the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights are asking the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs and other competent institutions to adopt a new law, based on the Model Law on the Rights of Civilian Victims of War, which contains normative solutions in accordance with the international standards. Also, the municipality of Novi Beograd is asked to return the memorial plaque for Tomo Buzov and a clear condemnation of its removal. Our organisations expect the Court of Appeal in Belgrade to take into account the appeal of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office against the verdict issued in February this year and to impose punishments on the accused that correspond to the gravity of this crime.

We will mark the 30th anniversary of the crime in Štrpci on Monday, February 27, 2023, starting at 3:48 pm in Knez Mihailova Street (in front of the tavern “Russian Tsar”), and on this occasion we invite citizens, representatives of institutions, media and non-governmental organisations to join us.

On February 27, 2023, the Humanitarian Law Center will, as every year, be at the commemoration of the anniversary of the crime in Prijepolje, together with the family members of the victims.

The digital archive collection “Crimes in Sandžak in the 1990s”, published last year, shows how ethnic incidents at the beginning of the 1990s in Sandžak got a systemic character and turned into war crimes such as kidnapping, torture and murder. Reports “Spotlight on” are part of the collection, documenting the crime in Štrpci – “Muslims in Serbia and Montenegro – Abduction of passengers from train no. 671” and “Disappearances – Abductions of Muslims from Serbia and Montenegro during Armed Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as “Abduction in Štrpci – Analysis of War Crimes Trials, Facts, Legal Issues and Political Implications”.