After the Ratko Mladic Judgment – Using the potential of the ICTY convictions for reconciliation in the region

srebrenica-press_logoOn 22 November 2017, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague pronounced the first-instance judgment against Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), sentencing him to life imprisonment. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) considers that the facts established, the findings of responsibility and the evidence presented encompass the judicial truth about the genocide in Srebrenica and other crimes committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The findings of the judgment and the extensive documentation collected during the proceedings now represent valuable potential for a final and decisive step toward reconciliation and dealing with the past.


Military medical facilities in the service of obstructing justice in war crimes proceedings

Visi_sud_beogradThe main trial before the War Crimes Department of the High Court in Belgrade in the Trnje case, which was scheduled for September 13 2017, was not held because the defendant Pavle Gavrilović did not appear before the Court, again, because he allegedly fell ill on the day of the trial. His absence was, as in previous occurrences, justified on the basis of medical records issued by the Military Hospital in Niš. The second defendant, Rajko Kozlina, used to use a similar tactics of absence from the trial, with the only difference that he received confirmation of hospitalization from the Belgrade Military Medical Academy. Both defendants are still members of the Army of the Republic of Serbia. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) points out that this is a deliberate obstruction by the defense, with the complicity of military medical institutions, and calls on the court to, by at least placing the defendants in custody, put an end to an obvious obstruction of justice.


Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes – dead letters

ministarstvo_pravdeMore than a year after the adoption of the  Action Plan for Chapter 23 (Action Plan), the provisions of this document relating to the prosecution of war crimes are being carried out superficially, for merely ”cosmetic” purposes, and many of the prescribed activities are not being carried out at all. The situation is the same when it comes to the implementation of the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes (National Strategy). It must therefore be said that the state authorities responsible for the implementation of the above provisions of the Action Plan and  National Strategy are falsely informing the public about their work, and continually making it difficult for the civil society to access relevant information and monitor their work. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that such behaviour is contrary to the obligations of the accession negotiations with the EU, and is an indicator of Serbia’s lack of commitment to the reform process, as well as sincere effort to prosecute war crimes more efficiently.


State obstructing War Crimes Trials


The Court of Appeals in Belgrade has dismissed (available in Serbian) the indictment filed against eight members of a Special Brigade of the Republic of Srpska Ministry of the Interior, accused of killing 1,313 civilians from Srebrenica in the Kravice hangar on July 14th, 1995 (Srebrenica – Kravica Case), with the explanation that the indictment was not filed by an authorized prosecutor. The Humanitarian Law Center thinks such a decision represents an inadmissible failure of the local judiciary, which will further jeopardize the process of war crimes trials, already deemed to be too slow.


Are war crimes trials in Serbia dying out?

Milica_Kostic-Medija_centarOn Thursday May 18th 2017, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) presented its sixth report on war crimes trials in Serbia. The report includes an analysis of 28 cases that were conducted before the courts in Serbia in 2016, placing them in the socio-political context that affects their processing.


Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2016

Izvestaj_o_sudjenjima_za_2016_engThe Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) has monitored all war crimes trials conducted in the territory of Serbia in 2016 – that is to say, a total of 26 trials conducted by the War Crimes Departments of the Higher Court or the Court of Appeal in Belgrade, or the courts of general jurisdiction.

The Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2016 features a brief overview of all 26 cases observed and the HLC’s key findings on each case, which the public needs to be informed about. Given that a significant portion of the war crimes proceedings presented in the Report have been ongoing for a number of years, the previous annual HLC Reports on war crimes trials should also be consulted for a full appreciation of the course of the proceedings and the corresponding findings. The Report also covers trials for crimes that are not classified as war crimes by the relevant prosecutor’s offices of general jurisdiction; despite the fact that the circumstances of such cases indicate they do constitute war crimes.

The Report focuses particularly on the work of prosecutor’s offices and courts, notably in the analysis of indictments and judgments. An analysis of the work of other institutions involved in war crimes prosecution (the War Crimes Investigation Service of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior, the Protection Unit, etc.) could not be made within the context of each case as a result of the lack of publicly available information on their work.

The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade handed down first-instance judgments in three cases over the reporting period, and a judgement accepting a plea agreement concluded between the OWCP and a the defendant. The War Crimes Department of the Court of Appeal in Belgrade has issued six rulings on appeals against judgments passed by the Higher Court in Belgrade. The courts of general jurisdiction handed down four judgments. Eight OWCP’s indictments were confirmed in the reporting period against 15 individuals accused of a war crime against a civilian population.

The analyses of the cases in the Report are preceded by an overview of the general findings on war crimes trials in 2016, and a summary of the significant social and political events that had a bearing on the war crimes trials.

The Report on War Crimes Trials in Serbia during 2016 is available here.


On the occasion of the election of the Prosecutor for War Crimes of the Republic of Serbia: No discussion on the future of war crimes prosecution

skupstina_srbijeOn Monday, May 15th 2017, the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia elected Snežana Stanojković, former Deputy Prosecutor, as the new Chief Prosecutor for War Crimes in Serbia. This position has been vacant since January 1st 2016. Human rights organizations are welcoming the election of a new Head of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP), primarily because of the importance of continuity in the domestic prosecution of war crimes, which was threatened with disruption because the appointment of a new chief prosecutor had been delayed for almost a year and a half; and also because this occasion should indicate the final start of the implementation of measures designed to increase the efficiency of this office.


25 Years Since Crime at Ovčara Victims’ trust in domestic judiciary is betrayed

Ovcara 25 godinaNovember 20th 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the crime committed at „Ovčara“ farm near Vukovar, when members of the local territorial defense unit (Teritorijalna odbrana – TO) and Serb volunteers under the command of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) killed 265 Croatian civilians and prisoners of war. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) on this occasion would like to remind the public that the trial of this case before the domestic courts has not yet been finally completed, even after more than 12 years.


Acquittal in Gradiška Case: New Instance of Omissions in Work of Prosecutor’s Office and Court

Logo FHPThe Higher Court in Belgrade rendered a judgment in the Gradiška Case on October 13th, 2016, acquitting the accused Goran Šinik of charges that he had committed an act of war crime against a civilian population. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that this judgement is the outcome of an unfounded indictment filed by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP), as well as of inadequate control exercised by the Trial Chamber of the Higher Court in Belgrade in the phase of judgment confirmation; and that this case represents a paradigmatic example of how an image of productivity of the war crimes judiciary is being fabricated, by raising indictments which are doomed to failure.


Consequences of Political Tensions on Prosecution of War Crimes: For the first time, Serbia does not participate in the regional conference of war crimes prosecutors

Logo FHPAfter 12 years of contacts between prosecution offices in the region within the framework of cooperation in the prosecution of war crimes, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) of the Republic of Serbia for the first time did not participate in the regional conference of war crimes prosecutors, the tenth in the series, which began on the 5th September 2016 in Brijuni, Croatia. This is a dramatic change in long-standing practices, and it is happening at a moment of severely undermined bilateral relations (available in Bosnian) between Serbia and Croatia, and a political crisis (available in Serbian) in the region. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) feels that this is an alarming indicator of political influence being exerted on the judiciary, and points out that the decision on non-participation by the OWCP at the conference is in direct conflict with the obligations which the Republic of Serbia committed itself to with the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes.