Never Ending War-Crime Trials

13. February 2014.00:00
After having spent ten years in courtrooms, some of the war-crimes indictees are still awaiting second instance verdicts to be pronounced. Although everything is carried out according to the law, legal experts say that the fact that those trials have still not been completed can not be justified.

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The trial of Samir Bejtic for crimes at Kazani, near Sarajevo, before the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo began more than ten years ago. However, the second instance verdict against Bejtic has still not been pronounced.

Indictees in the so-called Vranica case before the Cantonal Court in Mostar have been on trial for 13 years. The beginning of the fourth trial is awaited at the moment.

Renewal of trials in such a way is possible, because the Criminal Code of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, SFRJ, has been applied in those two cases. The mentioned law stipulates that, in case a higher instance court quashes a verdict, the case is returned to the first instance Court for retrial. Thanks to this legal provision, trials can be renewed several times.

Legal experts point out that, although the Law provides for the constant renewal of trials, there is no excuse for making indictees and victims wait for second instance verdicts even for ten years.

“The Court bears the biggest responsibility for the fact that the processes have not been finished. Wrong assessments about the cases themselves by judges lead to long-lasting proceedings,” says Nenad Gvozdic, one of the Defence attorneys in the Vranica case.

Despite the fact that, according to the new Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH, from 2003, trials cannot be renewed several times, in some cases parties wait for the pronouncement of first instance verdicts for years.

Solution that is not Being Used

The trial of Samir Bejtic began in 2003. The Cantonal Court in Sarajevo has pronounced three verdicts against him. The Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FBiH, quashed two of them and ordered retrials. The Supreme Court is now considering an appeal against the third verdict, under which Bejtic was acquitted of charges, filed by the Cantonal Prosecution in Sarajevo.

The trial of Zeljko Dzidic, Mate Anicic, Erhard Poznic and Ivan Skutor, who are charged in the Vranica case, Mostar municipality, began in 2000. Following three verdicts of release pronounced by the Mostar Cantonal Court, which were quashed by the Supreme Court of FBiH, the case has now been returned for retrial for the fourth time. In the meantime, indictee Dzidic has become unavailable to the prosecutorial bodies of BiH.

“Judges obviously have a different opinion about the assessment of guilt and evidence material. The Mostar Court has always said that there is no sufficient evidence, but, while reading the verdict passed down by the Supreme Court, I can see that the Court says that there is evidence and that they can be sentenced, but they still do not want to sentence them,” Defence attorney Gvozdic explains.

He considers that the fact that judicial institutions can not complete one case is shameful.

“The passage of time has done harm to the injured parties too. They have waited for justice for fifteen years. On the other side, the indictees have been fighting for justice for fifteen years. All of them are in an awful position,” Gvozdic says.

Legal experts point out such cases can be solved by referring them to another Chamber or having a higher instance court finish the trials.

However, Tihomir Jurko, Deputy Chief Federal Prosecutor, says that the Supreme Court of FBiH rarely uses the possibility to render verdicts.

“The Court does not use that possibility. It may be due to the fact that it wants to force cantonal courts to pronounce verdicts according to its instructions, also using the fact that cantonal courts themselves are competent for those specific cases,” he explains.

Nevertheless, Jurko says that there is no excuse for quashing verdicts several times and ordering retrials.
After having quashed the verdict by the Mostar Cantonal Court the last time, the Supreme Court of FBiH ordered a retrial to be held before a new trial chamber. However, Defence attorney Gvozdic considers that, in this case, pronouncing a verdict by the Supreme Court would be the best and fastest solution.

Although we have asked the Supreme Court of FBiH to give us a statement concerning this issue on several occasions during the past three months, they have still not responded to our requests.

Years of Waiting for Evidence

According to the Criminal Code from 2003, it is not possible to have so many retrials. Although Zarije Ostojic, who is charged with crimes committed in Susica detention camp in Vlasenica, is on trial according to this law, he has been waiting for a first instance verdict by the District Court in Eastern Sarajevo for four years already.

The Defence and Prosecution point out that the trial has been a long one, but they say that they do not have any objection to the work of the District Court.

Speaking about the reasons for the fact that Ostojic’s trial has been going on since 2009, his Defence attorney Dragan Gotovac says that the composition of the Trial Chamber has changed during the trial, so the trial had to begin anew, also adding that many witnesses live abroad, so their appearance in court is waited for long.

Nevertheless, the Defence attorney considers that, in case the Court can not ensure the presentation of all pieces of evidence, it should pronounce a verdict on the basis of available pieces of evidence.

“Neither the Defence nor the indictee have problems with or objections to the work of the Court and Prosecution. However, we do consider that, if they are not capable of ensuring the presentation of all pieces of evidence, they should complete the case on the basis of available evidence,” Gotovac explains.

The last hearing in Ostojic’s case was held at the beginning of November last year. It is still not know when the trial will continue.

Selma Učanbarlić

This post is also available in: Bosnian