Bosnia Keeps Fewer Indictees in Custody

25. December 2013.00:00
Only 14 of about 100 people indicted for the gravest crimes are currently in the custody of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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One is Aleksandar Cvetkovic, indicted for genocide in Srebrenica, who was extradited from Israel.
Another is Zemir Kovacevic, indicted for war crimes committed in Bosanski Brod, who was extradited from Sweden.

Nedzad Hodzic has spent the longest time in the court’s custody. Charged over the execution of Croats in Trusina, near Konjic, as well as for crimes on Mt Igman, he has been in custody for over three years.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, once an indictment is raised, custody may last up to three years.
However, after Hodzic had spent three years in custody for crimes in Trusina, he was released and then immediately re-arrested in connection with the crimes allegedly committed on Mt Igman.

By law, custody orders are there to secure the presence of an indictee at his trial or his availability to the investigating authorities.

Among the reasons for custody are the existence of reasonable suspicions that the person has committed the crimes in question, the possibility of escape, destruction of evidence and his potential influence on witnesses or accomplices.

In most cases, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has determined restrictive measures, which include restrictions on leaving one’s place of residence, confiscation of travel documents and prohibiting the establishment or maintainance of contact with potential witnesses or accomplices.

Prohibitive measures are sometimes also determined for indictees convicted by a first-instance verdict.
Such case is with Zoran Milic, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for crimes in Busovaca as well as with Zoran Dragicevic, who was sentenced to 11 years for crimes committed in Sarajevo.

After a first-instance sentence is pronounced, custody may not last longer than nine months.

Following the pronouncement of a second-instance verdict, if it is a guilty verdict, custody usually lasts until the start of the prison sentence.

Bail replaces custody:

Among those kept longest in custody is Veselin Vlahovic “Batko”, who was jailed for the maximum penalty of 45 years for crimes against civilians in the Sarajevo neighbourhoods Grbavica, Vraca and Kovacici.

From May to July 1992, the court ruled, he killed about 35 persons, raped 11 women and abused, took into captivity, tortured and robbed other non-Serbs.

After being arrested in Spain in April 2010, and following his extradition to Bosnia on August 26, 2010, he has been in custody ever since. Custody was extended after the first-instance verdict on March 2013.

The verdict may be subject to an appeal to the Appellate Division of the Court of Bosna and Herzegovina.
Drazen Mikulic, who was sentenced by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina to six years for crimes committed in Dretelj in 1993, has been in custody since September 2012, when his verdict was pronounced.

One other measure now used to ensure the presence in court of a suspect is the deposit of bail money.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina released Zulfikar Alispago, for example, who is indicted for crimes in Trusina, near Konjic, after accepting more than 260,000 euros in bail.

In the same way, Nihad Bojadzic, who is indicted for crimes in Jablanica and Konjic, was released from custody following the acceptance of bail for 350,000 euros.

Edin Dzeko, who was extradited to Bosnia for crimes committed in Konjic and Jablanica, was also released the same way in May this year, for over 300,000 euros in bail.

Custody for indictees of war crimes was more often determined in the past than now.

In 2007, as many as 29 war crime indictees were in the custody of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Currently, three indictees are in custody on suspicion of having committed crimes in Prozor and Bileca: Nikola Maric, indicted over crimes in Prozor; and Miroslav Duka and Goran Vujovic, who are indicted over crimes in Bileca.

According to the Criminal Procedure Code, custody for indictees can last up to 12 months following arrest. After that deadline expires, the indictee must be released unless an indictment has been raised.

Experts cite the “Protocol on Cooperation in the Prosecution of Perpetrators of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and Genocide”, signed this year between Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, as one reason why custody is less often determined these days.

Under the terms of the Protocol, from this year on, Serbia and Croatia can prosecute persons for war crimes who are not available to the prosecuting authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and vice-versa.

Awaiting sentence at liberty:

A group of 14 persons form a special category as the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina released them from prison after their verdicts were overturned.

Although the Prosecution demanded custody for them, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina declined to do so on the grounds that there are no legal provisions to determine such a course of action.

Acting on the appeals of convicted war criminals, and in accordance with the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Maktouf and Damjanovic, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a decision in October 2013 that binds the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina to apply the provisions of the law that was in force at the time of the offence, not the Criminal Code of Bosnia by which they have already been convicted.

After the state Court ordered the restoration of the procedure of war crimes, it released to freedom Goran and Zoran Damjanovic, and then reduced their sentence by four years and a half-year respectively.

Goran Damjanovic was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for war crimes against the civilian population, while his brother was jailed for six years. According to available data, the brothers have already spent that much time either in custody or prison.

This was the first sentence issued after the decision of the Constitutional Court, and, along with the brothers Damjanovic, 11 more persons who had been convicted of crimes in Srebrenica, Jajce, Konjic and Capljina have since been released. Abduladhim Maktouf was expelled from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mirko Pekez and Milorad Savic were sentenced by second-instance verdict for crimes committed in the village of Tisovac in the Jajce area. This verdict was pronounced after the Constitutional Court overturned the previous second-instance verdict on the grounds of “misapplication of the law”. Pekez was sentenced to ten and Savic to 15 years but the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not order custody for them.

The Court explained that the freedom of the suspect or indictee may only be limited under conditions prescribed by the law.

Džana Brkanić

This post is also available in: Bosnian