Bosnia Victims Query Value of Guilt Agreements

23. September 2011.00:00
Courts in Bosnia increasingly rely on guilt pleas to speed up trials secure verdicts – but many victims groups feel justice is being sacrificed in the name of expediency.

Judicial opinion and victims remain divided over guilt admission agreements related to war crimes in Bosnia. Eight such agreements have been concluded over the past eight months.The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the State Prosecution, defends them, saying guilt admission agreements reduce the duration of court proceedings, obtain information needed for other cases and ensure indictees are in fact sentenced.But the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the State Court, says there are negative aspects to these deals, because in some instances the indictee who has concluded a guilt admission agreement does not offer any new information to the prosecution.Miodrag Stojanovic, who represents war-crimes indictees before the State Court, believes more and more guilt admission agreements may be concluded in the coming years.Meanwhile representatives of victims groups say they support guilt admission agreements only when they lead to the identification of other perpetrators of serious crimes or deliver information about the locations of mass graves.The OSCE Mission has a more neutral standpoint. «The guilt admission agreement institution has become an important aspect of war crimes processing before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” it says.
But it adds that its application should ideally be accompanied by other benefits such as fresh information on locations where the missing persons can be found.

Finding bodies:Till now, 24 guilt admission agreements have been concluded before the War Crimes Chamber of the State Court, one third of them this year alone.By law, a guilt admission agreement can be reached at any stage of the proceedings. Of the eight persons who concluded guilt admission agreements this year, Miroslav Anic, former member of the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, who was sentenced for crimes committed in Kiseljak and Vares, got the longest sentence,15 years.When there is an intention to conclude a guilt admission agreement, prosecutors are obliged to inform the families and victims’ associations about the advantages of such an agreement.The State Prosecution says it always seeks the consent of associations of victims.But victims groups from Bugojno, Central Bosnia, say that when the State Prosecution reached a guilt admission agreement with Enes Handzic, which was supposed to include information about the whereabouts of their family members who were killed, this did not happen. After the State Prosecution concluded the agreement with Handzic for crimes committed against Croats from Bugojno, the State Court accepted the agreement in May and jailed the former Assistant Commander for Security with the 307th Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina for eight years.The verdict said Handzic had offered useful information that helped the Prosecution find the truth about the persons who were involved in the bloodshed in Bugojno.“Handzic has provided information about the murder locations for some persons mentioned in the indictment and the whereabouts of their remains,» the verdict said.«This was particularly important for the discovery of human bones at Ivandica kuca locality,” it added.
But Miroslav Zelic, head a group of associations that emerged from the war in Bugojno, says his members feel deceived.«The agreement was no good because the information that the families expected to get has not been revealed, so the families feel disappointed,» he said.«What we found was a handful of bones. If that was enough for concluding the agreement, I think the whole matter was done in the wrong way… Croats from Bugojno have been deceived by the agreement with Hadzic,» he added.This year, Osman Sego, former member of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment after admitting guilt for crimes committed in Bugojno.Zoran Kusic, former member of “Jahorina” Training Center with Republika Srpska Interior Ministry, who was sentenced to five years in prison, and Dragan Crnogorac, member of that same U