Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Regional Cooperation in War Crimes Prosecution Should Comply with European Standards

ZAGREB, December 18, 2019 - Chief State Prosecutor Dražen Jelenić said in Sarajevo on Wednesday that regional cooperation in the prosecution of war crimes should comply with European standards and that currently it was not realistic to expect a separate agreement on the mutual extradition of war crimes suspects.

The establishment of a mechanism or the signing of an agreement between countries in the region on the mutual extradition of war crimes suspects in not realistic for the time being, Jelenić said, expressing at the same time readiness to cooperate on the basis of existing laws.

Jelenić was participating in a meeting of representatives of regional prosecutorial authorities, which was also attended by the Chief Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), Serge Brammertz.

In a statement to Hina, Jelenić said that it was primarily important for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to align their actions with the legal standards in force in the EU, including Croatia.

"... that would include the application of the European arrest warrant, which regulates and enables the extradition of a country's citizens to other countries for any criminal offence," said Jelenić.

He assessed regional cooperation in war crimes cases as satisfactory but noted that it could definitely be better.

This requires overcoming obstacles that concern the countries' legal systems as they are no longer as compatible as they were before the break-up of the former state, he said.

"In a way, Croatia's membership of the EU and the high legal standards that we have to comply with, as well as rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, complicate the situation. We are trying to explain our legal situation to our colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and expect them to adjust their actions in cases requiring regional cooperation to those high standards," Jelenić said.

He confirmed that Croatia wanted to step up cooperation, notably with Serbia, in obtaining evidence in war crimes cases for the purpose of their prosecution.

"We are aware that a large body of evidence as well as a large number of perpetrators are in Serbia, and the problem with that country is that those perpetrators are not prosecuted in line with command responsibility," he said.

MICT Chief Prosecutor Brammertz said at the Sarajevo meeting that closer cooperation between the prosecutorial authorities in the countries in the region was necessary to complete the prosecution of the numerous war crimes cases, warning that in the last three years little had been done in the region in terms of the transfer of cases.

More news about war crimes prosecution can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

RECOM War Victims Project Has Politically Failed

ZAGREB, December 17, 2019 - RECOM, the regional fact-finding commission on victims of the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia, is a project which has politically failed, Nataša Kandić, a peace activist from Belgrade, said in Zagreb on Monday at a regional gathering of activists for the protection of human rights.

Since 2006, RECOM has been trying to compile a joint list of victims without success due to political resistance to combining data on the circumstances of death and the names of about 130,000 victims of the 1990s wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

RECOM has created a solid foundation for a regional list of victims but the project has failed politically, Kandić said at the gathering organised ahead of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the European Union.

"NGOs and civil society can't publicly acknowledge the victims because that is the task of the states," she said, adding that RECOM had been unable to meet with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović because they were told she was too busy and that naming victims was not a topic within her remit.

Vesna Teršelić, head of the Documenta Centre for Dealing with the Past, said no progress had been made this year in documenting war victims due to lack of political will to access the documents of Croatia's Homeland War Memorial Documentation Centre, which collects and has access to all official documents.

The Transition Justice Forum brought together representatives of European Commission institutions, lawyers and activists. Croatia was represented by Assistant Justice Minister Ivan Crnčec, who agreed that regional cooperation was not good, blaming Serbia for it.

He said that over the past two years Croatia had been trying without success to start cooperation with Serbia. About 3,600 war crimes cases have been instigated in Croatia, about 2,100 indictments have been filed and about 640 persons have been convicted, while the figures in Serbia have been paltry and show no trend of increasing, he added.

"There is still no prosecuting on command responsibility in Serbia, which both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have managed to do," Crnčec said.

Speaking of the exchange of lists of war crimes suspects between Croatia and Serbia, he said Croatian prosecutors had given Serbia 1,534 names and received 86 in return, including 43 from an indictment filed by the military prosecutor's office for subverting the constitutional order of the former Yugoslavia.

"They won't hand over other cases instigated by the military prosecutor's office. Regional cooperation requires a lot of work but there must be at least a minimum will on the other side too," Crnčec said.

Activists called out the Homeland War Memorial Documentation Centre for not making public its list of war victims.

"Croatia's Memorial Documentation Centre announced a year ago that it would make public the names of 13,500 victims of Croatian nationality and about 7,000 victims of other nationalities... but that hasn't happened," said Kandić.

More news about the Homeland War can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Commemoration Held for Zec Family

ZAGREB, December 8, 2019 - The Documenta Centre for Dealing with the Past and the Serb National Council (SNV) held a commemoration for Marija, Aleksandra and Mihajlo Zec who had been killed on Mount Medvednica, overlooking Zagreb, 28 years ago on Saturday, saying that they would ask the city authorities to name a Zagreb square or street after 12-year-old Aleksandra.

They said they would also ask the city authorities to put up a memorial plaque on the Adolfovac mountain lodge where Aleksandra and her mother Marija were shot dead by members of a special police unit under Tomislav Merčep.

Members of the unit came to the home of the Zec family in Zagreb's Trešnjevka district shortly after 11pm on 7 December 1991 and shot dead 38-year-old Mihajlo Zec as he tried to escape. Marija and Aleksandra, who witnessed the murder, were then taken in a van to Adolfovac where they were killed and the mountain lodge later burned down.

Shortly after the police found the bodies, the members of Merčep's unit Munib Suljić, Igor Mikola, Siniša Rimac, Nebojša Hodak and Snežana Živanović were arrested. Some of them confessed to the murders before an investigating judge, but at trial it was found that they did not have a lawyer present during their interviews with the investigating judge as required by law. Their earlier statements were thrown out and they were released.

Aleksandra, Marija and Mihajlo Zec are buried in Mihajlo's place of birth Gornja Dragotinja, near Prijedor, northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Journalist Drago Pilsel said at the commemoration that their murder "is one of the most shameful chapters in modern Croatian history."

"Some of the murderers later advanced in their careers and were even decorated by the then President Franjo Tuđman, which brings into question the defensive nature of the Homeland War," Pilsel said.

The head of Documenta, Vesna Teršelić, wondered if Croatian politicians and citizens "will remember not just the victims of the Homeland War, for whom Parliament has designated a special date in the calendar, but also all the children, more than 400 of them, killed in the Homeland War."

Speaking on behalf of the SNV, Saša Milošević said that the 1990s was "not just a glorious period, but also a very sad, dark, tragic and shameful period of Croatian history."

The Documenta and SNV representatives laid a wreath and lit three candles, members of the public laid roses, and a minute's silence was observed for the dead.

Among those attending were Zoran Pusić of the Antifascist League and the Civic Committee on Human Rights, and SNV president and member of Parliament Milorad Pupovac.

More news about Serbs in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 November 2019

War Crimes Trials Should Be Completed Before Judges Move to High Criminal Court

ZAGREB, November 15, 2019 - The Documenta nongovernmental organisation on Thursday called on the Justice Ministry to ensure that war crimes trials, including those of Branimir Glavaš and Dragan Perenčević, are completed before judges presiding over those trials take office at the High Criminal Court.

Documenta proposed the adoption of a regulation whereby future High Criminal Court judges Tanja Pavelin and Tomislav Juriša would be obligated to complete the war crimes trials they are currently conducting before assuming their new posts.

Documenta recalled in a statement that under the amended Courts Act, the High Criminal Court was to be established by 1 January, 2020.

"Considering the date specified by the law in question, the question arises of what will happen with the trials currently conducted by the judges who have been appointed to the High Criminal Court," Documenta said in the statement.

The NGO was referring to a trial for war crimes against Serb civilians in Osijek which is being conducted against member of parliament Branimir Glavaš, a trial for crimes against Croat civilians in Petrinja against a member of Croatian Serb rebel forces, Dragan Perenčević, and others, and trials for crimes committed at the Manjača prison camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the shelling of Zagreb and Jastrebarsko, which are presided over by Judge Tomislav Juriša.

Completing the trials would be a step forward in dealing with the burden of unresolved and unpunished war crimes and prevent having to again call witnesses whose condition is not good and incurring additional costs for the state budget, as well as avoid new rulings by the European Court of Human Rights against Croatia, the NGO said.

More NGO news can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Several Activists Protest in Zagreb over Crimes during Operation Storm

ZAGREB, August 6, 2019 - A dozen activists of several nongovernmental organisations on Monday afternoon held a protest rally in Zagreb's main square to express their sympathy with the victims of the combined military and police operation Storm in August 1995 when Croatia liberated areas in northern Dalmatia, Lika, Banovina and Kordun that had been controlled by Croatian Serb rebels for four years.

"We want to warn that the victory that is being celebrated in recent days is not indisputable and is not so magnificent. It was stained by crimes that have not yet been prosecuted," said activist Bojana Genov of the Women's Network Croatia.

We call for the prosecution of crimes and for defusing war rhetoric, and now when a quarter of a century passed since the war, the time has come to bring the relations back to normal and to develop peace-mongering rhetoric, Genov said.

She also said that during the Operation Storm ethnic cleansing had been conducted and that the future would be burdened unless war crimes were prosecuted.

Activist Nela Pamuković accused the Croatian leadership of hypocritical rhetoric.

"We insist that the government does not invest funds in the military industry and militarism but it should invest funds into the safety and security of all its citizens, into healthcare and other measures," Pamuković said.

Some of the passers-by made insulting comments about the protesters who carried a huge banner with the message "Crimes in Storm are the responsibility of all of us!", however no major incident happened.

More news about Operation Storm can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 3 June 2019

War Crimes Defendant Reports Key Witness for Murder

ZAGREB, June 3, 2019 - Politician Branimir Glavaš, who is standing a retrial for war crimes committed against Serbs in Osijek, filed a criminal complaint against the key witness, Krunoslav Fehir, for the 1991 murder of Čedomir Vučković in a garage in Osijek, just before Fehir is about to testify in the ongoing trial of Glavaš and five more co-defendants, according to information provided by Zagreb County Court on Monday.

Vučković was murdered in August 1991 in a garage in Osijek by Fehir, who was at the time a 16-year-old member of the so-called Branimir Battalion and who was later given the status of protected witness whose testimonies incriminated Glavaš at previous trials.

Fehir's statement was crucial for the delivery of a guilty verdict against Glavaš and other co-defendants. However, the sentencing verdicts against Glavaš and Ivica Krnjak, Gordana Getoš Magdić, Dino Kontić, Tihomir Valentić and Zdravko Dragić were quashed by the Constitutional Court.

The retrial began in 2017 with Glavaš and his co-defendants pleading not guilty to charges of war crimes against Serbs in Osijek.

In the first trial, which lasted from October 2007 to April 2009, 120 witnesses were questioned.

The retrial is being repeated a decade since Glavaš and the other defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years. The Supreme Court shortened their sentences in a 2010 verdict.

The first verdict by the Supreme Court against Glavaš, in the duration of eight years, which he served in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was quashed by the Constitutional Court in early 2015.

More war crimes news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wants to Join Forces with Croatia in Fighting against War Rapes

ZAGREB, May 30, 2019 - Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege has called for joint global action to help war rape victims around the world, and he thinks Croatia can contribute.

Late last year, his Mukwege Foundation started the International Reparations Initiative, a global fund for survivors of wartime sexual violence. He is trying to include as many countries as possible in the Initiative, expected to come to life this year.

With the fund for survivors, we can give the right answer to all victims of sexual violence, Mukwege told Hina in Carcavelos, Portugal, where he took part in an Estoril conference on global challenges.

Sexual violence is a weapon of war which isn't tied to only one conflict. It's a common tactic used around the world. Reparations are a step towards restoring dignity to survivors who usually don't have the money to seek justice for the pain they experienced, Mukwege said.

This gynaecologist from the Congo received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for physically and psychologically treating women and children raped in war conflicts in Congo over the past 20 years as well as for his fight against that form of torture.

That remains a big problem in the world. It's a problem in Iraq, in Syria and in many states in Africa, Mukwege said.

The theme of this year's Estoril conference, named after the tourist resort, was "Empowering Humanity: From Local to Global Justice".

On Monday, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović spoke in defence of the equality of women in world politics and locally, saying society suffers great losses by neglecting and marginalising women.

I was impressed by how seriously the Croatian president understands the issue of women, women in Croatia, and we talked about what could be done about women victims of war rape in the world, Mukwege said.

After her address at the conference, Grabar-Kitarović met with Mukwege at the Carcavelos Faculty of Economics. They also talked about war rapes in Croatia during the Greater Serbia aggression in the 1990s.

We shared our experiences about what happened in Croatia and other parts of the world, about ethnic cleansing. Local solutions are not enough, we need global solutions, Mukwege said.

She is really committed to this issue. This weapon of war was used in Croatia and elsewhere in the world, so we must join forces to fight against it and to find a solution for the victims, he added.

More news about war crimes in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina Solve Problems in War Crimes Cases

ZAGREB, May 25, 2019 - Bosnia and Herzegovina's Justice Minister Josip Grubeša and Chief State Prosecutor Gordana Tadić met in Zagreb on Friday with their Croatian counterparts and agreed future procedures in war crimes cases thus removing obstacles that existed in the referral of those cases, Bosnian judicial institutions in Sarajevo have reported.

Minister Grubeša and Chief State Prosecutor Tadić visited Croatia on the occasion of an event marking the national day of prosecutors.

Bosnia's justice ministry said in a press release that the Bosnian officials met on the margins of that event with Croatia's Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković and Chief State Prosecutor Dražen Jelenić.

The talks focused on outstanding issues in cooperation between the two countries' prosecutorial authorities and justice ministries, and the importance of referring war crimes cases, which is regulated by an international agreement and protocols, was underscored.

"In that regard it was necessary to resolve certain issues concerning the procedure itself in order to enable more efficient prosecution, which we indeed did today," a press release said.

Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina do not extradite their citizens accused of war crimes, however, an agreement signed by the two countries envisages the possibility of referring war crimes cases to the other country to be prosecuted.

Numerous people accused of war crimes have exploited their dual citizenship to avoid trial.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Ministers Comment on War Criminal's Lecture to Students in Zagreb

ZAGREB, April 4, 2019 - A lecture given by convicted war criminal Dario Kordić to students in Zagreb earlier this week has met with criticism and condemnation from activists in Zagreb and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Party of Democratic Action (SDA), and when asked for a comment, Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said on Thursday that Kordić had served his prison term for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"There is a legal rule saying that no one has the right to judge a person for committing a crime after they have served a prison term for it,” Kuščević told reporters before a cabinet meeting.

"Kordić made his contribution to the war, and he obviously made mistakes. He served his time for the mistakes he made," Kuščević said.

Education and Science Minister Blaženka Divjak said that, having served his sentence, Kordić was rehabilitated in legal terms. "However, a message is sent not only through words but also through what someone does through their whole life," Divjak said, calling for more caution in such cases.

Kordić, a Bosnian Croat wartime official who was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to 25 years in prison for war crimes against Bosniaks in central Bosnia, was released in 2014 after serving two-thirds of his prison term. In 2001, the trial chamber found him guilty of war crimes, including the Ahmići massacre and atrocities in the Lašva valley, giving him 25 years. The appeals chamber upheld the ruling in December 2004. On 8 June 2006, Kordić was transferred to Austria to serve his sentence there. He and another nine Bosnian Croat political and military officials surrendered to the ICTY on 6 October 1997, and the time he spent in detention was credited to his sentence.

His lecture in a Zagreb student dormitory was organised by student chaplain Damir Stojić. Kordić's speech was interrupted by a group of students who booed him shouting that he was a war criminal.

More news about war crimes can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Croatia Welcomes Karadžić War Crimes Verdict

ZAGREB, March 20, 2019 - The final verdict against Radovan Karadžić cannot bring back to life the tens of thousands of victims or relieve the pain of their families but it must serve as a lasting warning about the fatal effects of the Great Serbia policy, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Wednesday.

Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadžić was sentenced earlier in the day to life imprisonment for genocide and war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals increased Karadzic's initial sentence of 40 years' imprisonment to life.

"Today's final verdict is a judgement against one of the main ideologists and executors of the Great Serbia policy, which did not refrain from genocide and other gravest types of international crime against Croats and Bosniaks, with the aim of creating a 'Great Serbia'," the president said in a press release.

"The verdict cannot bring back to life the tens of thousands of victims nor relieve the pain of their families and survivors, however, it must serve as a lasting warning about the fatality of that policy," Grabar-Kitarović said.

The Croatian non-governmental organisation Documenta - Centre for Dealing with the Past on Wednesday welcomed the ruling by the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) sentencing Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadžić to life imprisonment.

"Our view is that the genocidal intent to annihilate Muslims and Croats existed throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, including in Sarajevo and the six municipalities mentioned in the indictment, the allegation which the Appeals Chamber did not uphold," Documenta said in a statement.

It expressed concern about undermined trust in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We are particularly concerned about the consequences of a recently adopted declaration at the eighth session of the Croatian National Assembly (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) which disputes the Tribunal's judgment in the 'Prlić and others' case and the rejection of the Srebrenica War Crimes Commission's report by the government and parliament of Republika Srpska," Documenta said.

Representatives of associations bringing together victims of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and families of people gone missing or killed in the war welcomed with a round of loud applause the verdict of the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) which on Wednesday sentenced wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić to life imprisonment, confirming his responsibility for the gravest war crimes, including genocide.

"Sometimes justice seems not to exist but in this case it has been served," Bakira Hasečić, leader of the non-governmental organisation "Women War Victims", who followed the announcement of the verdict from the court gallery, told Hina.

Hasečić and members of other associations, who arrived in The Hague from Bosnia and Herzegovina to attend the announcement of the verdict, said that they were satisfied that the court had delivered the harshest sentence.

"Everything went well, he got what he deserves," said Jasmin Mešković, leader of an association of former prison camp inmates.

Mešković said that the verdict was good for legal practice as well as for the restoration of trust between people.

Fikret Grabovica, who leads an association of parents whose children were killed during the siege of Sarajevo, told Hina that he was satisfied with the verdict, notably because it was upheld in the part that refers to charges of genocide as well as a joint criminal enterprise in the case of Sarajevo's siege.

"I represent the parents of 1,600 children killed in Sarajevo and to us it is important that the court has confirmed that he issued orders to terrorise and shell the city's residents," said Grabovica.

He said that he hoped the verdict would help adopt a law that would punish the denial of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

More news about war crimes can be found in the Politics section.

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