Serbia: Humanitarian Law Center on war crimes trials in Serbia
- Humanitarian Law Center
11 000 Belgrade
Tel/Fax: 381 11 344 4313; 381 11 3444314
Belgrade, 27 July 2006
HLC Speaks of War Crimes Trials in SerbiaIn view of the US Ambassador for the War Crimes Issues, John Clint Williamson's visit
Under the International Community's pressure and in the direct relation to the state's obligation to respond to the war crimes committed in the recent past with legal instruments, the state of Serbia passed the laws, based on which it established special institutions for prosecuting war crimes. As of July 2003, the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office operates in Serbia, as well as the War Crimes Chamber within the Belgrade District Court. There are three chambers comprising three members, all Judges, by which participation of Jurors, who obviously sympathized with the defendants in the previous trials in Case Sjeverin and Case Podujevo, was eliminated.
The trials are administered in the technically excellent conditions. Audio and video recordings of the trials are made and because of this it is possible to enter every word pronounced in the courtroom into the transcript. Possible arbitrariness, which usually appeared in the classic dictating in the record, is now removed.
Legal regulation is coordinated with the needs of effective trials: the institute of witness collaborator was introduced; the law on admissibility and possibility to use records and other evidence from The Hague Tribunal as evidence in local war crimes trials was passed; provisions pertaining to the cooperation between the courts and prosecutor's offices in the countries at the territory of the former Yugoslavia; and, finally, new Criminal Procedure Code, from which some provisions entered into effect on 10 July 2006, prescribes and enables witness protection including use of pseudonyms during testimonies to changing identity and immigration into some other country.
Judges for War Crimes
War crimes trials in Serbia are organized in a professional manner and Judges are led by the laws in determining facts about defendants' liability. Despite the fact that the majority in the Government and the Parliament sees Hague indictees as Serbian heroes, the Judges for war crimes in cases Sjeverin, Podujevo, and Ovèara, as well as in the ongoing trials for cases Zvornik and the Scorpions, have shown their clear impartiality, professionalism, and commitment to law. Judges are, according to the law, limited by the factual background presented in the indictment. However, bearing in mind the specifics of the act of war crime, the judges have taken over the practice of The Hague Tribunal and considered the facts not included in the indictment in order to clarify the context in which the crime happened and to clarify the crime itself (Case Ovèara).
The Presiding Judge in Case Ovèara, Vesko Krstajiæ, has been the only Judge in the region of the former Yugoslavia, to whom the victims families expressed gratitude because of the partial trial and respect shown for the victims dignity.
War Crimes Prosecutors Officer
To date, the trials have shown that the war crimes prosecutors act in line with the Executive and governing political elites demands: they are accusing direct perpetrators (the ones who pulled the trigger), treat the perpetrators as members of the paramilitary formations, criminal groups, or individuals with the criminal record. In cases where a member of the Serbian Ministry of Interior (MUP) or Yugoslav Army, they are trying to present them as outlaws, isolated cases, and incidents.
It happens in practice that prosecutors try to minimize or completely eliminate any role of the Republic of Serbias institutions, regular police and military troops, and their connection to the war crimes and armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
It also happens that a prosecutor advises a witness to speak freely about the crimes committed, but not to bring the State Security Service and Serbian MUP in any connection to the crimes committed and war in BiH (a witness in case Zvornik).
In the main hearing in case Scorpions, which took place on 5 July 2006, the Prosecutor reacted sharply in relation to the proposal given by the victims representative Nataa Kandiæ. She suggested that the court requires the information on the Serbian MUP members, whose names were mentioned in the Republic of Srpska MUP letters about the wounded fighters at the Trnovo frontline (Srebrenica) in July 1995, which are available to all participants in the proceedings, in order to determine the status of the Scorpions unit. He demanded that the Trial Chamber takes a stand regarding the procedural position of the injured parties representative because, as he said, that position is often abused and leaves the context of what the state indictment represents in this and other cases.
By the abovementioned reaction, the Prosecutor revealed his strategy of determined fight against revealing facts and evidence that could provide help in determining the fact that the Scorpions unit was at the Trnovo frontline in July 1995 as a part of the Serbian MUP forces, as the documents in the case file show.
HLCs Role in War Crimes Trials
According to the provisions of the Criminal Code Procedure regulating the position of the injured parties legitimate representatives in the criminal proceedings, the HLC broadened its role of a human rights defender with the role of the victims representative in the war crimes trials. Due to the impartiality in documenting war crimes, knowledge and experience acquired in representing justice for victims, as well as the reputation in the region of the former Yugoslavia, the HLC became, in the eyes of the victims and public, a guarantee of justice and establishing responsibility for the war crimes committed in the recent past.
In all completed trials (Sjeverin, Podujevo, and Ovèara), the HLC managed to ensure victims participation, helped the Prosecutors Office with the HLC owned documentation on the cases, and represented victims. In the ongoing trials ( Scorpions and Zvornik), besides representing victims, it ensures victims participation in the trials and provides psychological support for the victims during their stay in Serbia. The HLC helped the Prosecutor in Case Zvornik obtain additional evidence and witnesses and initiated the beginning of investigation into the killing of more than 650 Bosniaks in the Zvornik Municipality, which is not the subject of the present indictment.
Stimulating Regional Cooperation
The HLC supported the BiH Court for War Crimes to continue the trial in imiæ case after the three-month-long blockade, by preparing transcripts of audio recordings from 64 days of trial of Mitar Vasiljeviæ before the Hague Tribunal, which was requested by the Defence Council as a condition for their participation in the trial.
The HLC, upon the BiH Prosecutors Office request, delivered its documentation on the war crimes committed in Bijeljina. In Case Ðurkoviæ, the HLC proposed two witnesses of the organized expulsion of Bosniaks from Bijeljina during the years of 1993 and 1994.
During the year of 2006, the HLC organized three meetings of the Tuzla Cantonal Prosecutors Office and Serbian War Crimes Prosecutors Office in relation to the ongoing trial of the former Meyer, Zvornik Territorial Defence Commander, et al. for the war crimes committed in the period from April to July 1992 (Case Zvornik). The aforementioned regional communication resulted in the fact that the War Crimes Prosecutors Office and the HLC proposed new witnesses, provided by the HLC, to the court, which contributed to the complete disclosure of the events mentioned in the present indictment. At the same time, the HLC managed to convince the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutors Office to initiate the investigation in relation to the killing of more than 650 Bosniaks, which was not included in the present indictment.
Impact of War Crimes Trials to Change of Relation Towards Past
The public in Serbia has no opportunity too see the course of the war crimes trials on TV. The Law does not allow free broadcasting of live hearings from the courtroom, which seriously obstructs every effort in Serbia to come to terms with the practice of impunity and glorification of The Hague indictees as Serbian heroes and replace it by the culture of solidarity and sympathy for the victims.
War crimes trials do not represent important media topics. It is obvious that media are trying to conceal in their reports the information on the involvement of Serbian institutions, police and army, in the commission of war crimes in BiH. Politicians, media, and War Crimes Prosecutors Office in Serbia are in agreement that information and evidence on the connection of the State Security Service and Serbian MUP, as well as Serbian Army and its security services, with the war crimes committed in BiH should not be revealed, allegedly in the best interest of Serbia, in order to prevent the International Court of Justice from establishing the responsibility of Serbia for the genocide and obliging it to pay reparation for war damages.
By this wrongful approach to the responsibility of the Serbian institutions during the Miloeviæs regime, the present political elites are trying to create a parallel past and history. At the same time, they are forgetting about the fact that the Hague Tribunal determined the court truth, in myriad verdicts, and this truth incontestably speak of the Serbian institutions responsibility for the war crimes committed in BiH, Croatia, and Kosovo.