Procrastination of Court Trial under Disputable Circumstances of Chamber Member Replacement
Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) flags the suspicious intentions of the Republic of Serbia’s judicial authorities, evinced by substituting a member of trial chamber in the case of Srebrenica, seven years after the proceedings commenced. This elicited doubts in bringing to an end the trial of seven former members of the Special Brigade of the Republic of Srpska Ministry of the Interior for the murder of at least 1,313 Bosniak civilians and, thus, in pronouncing fair judgments. Although the Criminal Procedure Code sets forth that the main trial can be restarted should the composition of the trial chamber change, in this case it is the circumstances that brought about the replacement of the chamber member that are contestable.
The High Court Council has not met its obligation to take a reasoned decision on renewal of the judge’s term of office, which resulted in imminent replacement of the trial chamber member. In order to end the war crime trials without prolongation and to protect the victims’ family members and witnesses from additional traumatisation, HLC calls upon the High Court Council to observe its obligations and act in the interest of fair and just completion of trials, without further delays.
The Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that the main trial shall be re-initiated in case of change in the chamber composition. However, the circumstances which caused the replacement of the chamber member are disputable. The term of office of judge Dejan Terzić, so-far chamber member, expired on 30 April 2023. Although the president of Belgrade’s High Court submitted a timely request for judge Terzić’s renewal of term to the High Court Council, the Council has never deliberated on the received request because the then chair of the Council, Jasmina Vasović, never included it in the session agenda. Thus, the Council, an independent body which is supposed to guarantee independence and autonomy of courts and judges, infringed its own Rules of Procedure and failed to take a reasoned decision providing the reasons for not renewing the judge’s term of office. The Council is not an administrative authority which can apply the silence of administration as an instrument in its operation, but a body which had to take any kind of decision upon the request.
Besides the Srebrenica case, judge Dejan Terzić was also member of trial chambers for the cases of Srebrenica II, Jajce, Bosanska Krupa – Donji Dubovnik and Lovas II. Terzić chaired the trial chambers in the cases of Bratunac II, Rudice and the new case against Novak Stjepanović. It is important to mention that in two cases, highly ranked officers of the Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS) and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) are being tried – Dušan Lončar, commander of the JNA’s II Proletarian Guard Motorised Brigade (Lovas II) and Milenko Živanović, commander of the VRS Drina Corps (Srebrenica II). Also, even four cases have been transferred from the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the domestic courts (Jajce, Bratunac II, Bosanska Krupa – Donji Dubovik and the new case against Novak Stjepanović), while the investigation in the Srebrenica case used the material transferred from the BiH Prosecutor’s Office.
Evidence taking and witness hearing in these cases before the War Crimes Department of the High Court in Belgrade are expected to be partly or fully repeated in the forthcoming period. The inevitable procrastination of the main trial will have a significant impact on the further course of the court proceeding, length of the trial, but first and foremost on the victims’ families who are awaiting justice.