On the occasion of the election of the Chief Public Prosecutor for War Crimes

On the occasion of the election of the Chief Public Prosecutor for War Crimes

Deklaratat - 2The High Prosecutorial Council (HPC) is in the process of selecting the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Public Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (POWCP). Snežana Stanojković has applied for the position again. She held the position until the end of her term on 31 May 2023, when she continued to hold it as Acting Prosecutor.

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) points out that it is necessary for a new prosecutor to be elected within the legal deadline, i.e. by the end of May, in order to avoid the problems that arose in the earlier period, when the Republic of Serbia did not have a prosecutor for war crimes for 17 months. Such a drastic delay in the election of a chief prosecutor jeopardised the conduct of war crimes proceedings, since the deputy prosecutors for war crimes in the period from 1 January 2016 to 31 May 2017, when Stanojković took office, did not have the authority to raise and represent indictments or take any actions in the proceedings.

The position of the Humanitarian Law Center is that Snežana Stanojković should not be re-elected as the Chief Public Prosecutor for War Crimes, as her previous work has shown extremely poor results, and incompetence in the performance of her function, and has led to the collapse of the credibility of the Public Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor. Stanojković’s mandate was marked by the small number of indictments, the non-transparent work of the Prosecutor’s Office, the lack of communication with the public, and the assessment of fellow prosecutors that her work was unprofessional.

During the almost seven-year long mandate of Snežana Stanojković, the POWCP issued only 16 indictments resulting from the POWCP’s own investigations.[1] The number of deputy war crimes prosecutors has doubled in the period since 2017 – from five to 11 prosecutors, but this has not led to an increase in the number of indictments either.

In addition to the extremely small number of its own indictments, there have been no adequate prosecutions of high-ranking members of the army or police, and no indictments of crimes committed against Albanian civilians in Kosovo. Nor have we seen an improvement in regional cooperation – rather, it has been reduced to an indiscriminate transfer of indictments from Bosnia and Herzegovina. For years, those indictments have made up the largest number of indictments in the POWCP, while at the same time, the transferring of indictments against foreign citizens arrested on the territory of Serbia has been avoided.

Under the mandate of Snežana Stanojković, the POWCP for the first time issued indictments against foreign citizens who were not available to the state authorities of the Republic of Serbia, and in two cases proposed a trial in absentia. Although this type of proceedings is provided for by domestic criminal legislation, the HLC believes that it should not be applied in the prosecution of war crimes, but that such cases should be resolved through regional cooperation.

Despite the fact that the Prosecutorial Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes in the Republic of Serbia envisages improving public information on war crimes trials, as well as the increased transparency of the work of the Prosecutor’s Office, since the beginning of work of Snežana Stanojković as the Chief Prosecutor, the visibility of the work of the POWCP has been drastically reduced. The biographies of all prosecutors have been removed from the POWCP website, and the news that is published is basic and very often backdated. Communication with the media is almost completely suspended, while cooperation with civil society does not exist.

The Rulebook of the POWCP on the anonymisation of personal data in indictments, which was adopted during the mandate of Snežana Stanojković, stipulates that indictments should be published in their entirety on the website of the Prosecutor’s Office, and that “anonymisation is not subject to data on the name, surname and nickname of a natural person, participant in the proceedings (defendant), in the event that the justified interest of the public to know, outweighs the protection of the identity of a natural person”. Also, it is explicitly stipulated that data on a participant in the procedure should be exempted from anonymisation, if it is a person whose data were already available to the public. Despite this, the Prosecutor’s Office publishes only the disposition of indictments with the anonymised names of the defendants, while at the same time it publishes on its website monthly trial schedules listing the names and surnames of the defendants, which makes such anonymisation meaningless.

At the session held on 25 March 2024, the POWCP Collegium, fulfilling its legal obligation, sent a negative opinion to the High Prosecutorial Council on the candidate Snežana Stanojković for election to the position of the Prosecutor in that Prosecutor’s Office, indicating that she did not meet such criteria as expertise, dignity and competence. The explanation for this decision, which was voted for by seven out of ten prosecutors, listed a number of serious objections to her work and pointed out her many omissions, and also her highly inappropriate and unprofessional attitude towards prosecutors, which has greatly hampered their work.

Bearing in mind the complexity of the issue of prosecuting war crimes perpetrators, it is necessary that a person with integrity be elected as the Chief Public Prosecutor for War Crimes, whose management will improve the work of the POWCP and lead to a more efficient prosecution of war crimes. With her leadership, Snežana Stanojković not only did not improve the efficiency of the Prosecutor’s Office and make its work more transparent – she made the Prosecutor’s Office invisible to the public, with results that were devastating, and far below the results that the POWCP had achieved during the previous Prosecutor’s mandate. All this makes her re-election unacceptable.

[1] Formally, 18 indictments were filed; but three indictments returned by the court to the Prosecutor’s Office simply received a new number – they were not new, but only redactions of already existing indictments.