Nine suspects for war crimes expected

11. November 2014.00:00
In order to conduct further war crimes trials, extradition proceedings are currently ongoing for nine citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who are currently residing in Europe, Australia and the United States, the Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina has confirmed to BIRN-Justice Report.

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After the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many citizens have found refuge in distant countries, far from the region. Some of them avoided prosecution for war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sometimes, they have been extradited at the request of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there have also been cases where the trials have been held in states where they currently live.

Experts say that the length of the extradition process depends on the agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the state conducting the extradition, the guarantees that are required of Bosnia and Herzegovina in respect of human rights, the right to a fair trial as well as on other additional documentation. 
For example, the extradition of Sakib Dautovic from Norway took about four-and-a-half years, while the extradition of Veselin Vlahovic from Spain took about five months.

After receiving all relevant documentation from the authority which is conducting the proceedings, the Minister of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina submits a formal request for extradition.

Proceedings that lasts for several years

Krunoslav Bonic lived freely in Australia until the autumn of this year, when he was arrested. An international warrant for his arrest was issued in 2006. As it says in the Australian court, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s request for the extradition was received in the spring of this year.

The indictment against Bonic was raised by the Prosecution of Central Bosnia Canton regarding suspicions that he committed war crimes against Bosniak civilians in area of Vitez in April 1993.

After he was arrested in France for crimes committed in Visegrad, since spring 2014 Radomir Susnjar is also facing extradition.

After news of his arrest, the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a statement saying that “Radomir Susnjar is suspected of having participated in the commission of a horrific crime, which is known as the “the live bonfire”, and which was committed in a house located in Pionirska street in Visegrad”.

More than 60 Bosniak civilians, including women and children, were burned in a house which was targeted by firearms.

As stated by the State Prosecution, “Fifty-nine people were killed then, while only seven managed to escape and survive.”

In addition to Bonic and Susnjar, the extradition procedure was initiated against three persons in the USA, two in the Netherlands as well as against one person in Switzerland and Russia respectively. 

According to the available information, it is the matter of Azra Basic, Almaz Nezirovic and Damir Lipovac, while the identity of the other four people is not known. The Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina says that they could not reveal the identity of those people, explaining that this can only be done “by the Prosecution Office or the court which requested the extradition proceeding.”

In May this year, Lipovac and another person were arrested in the Netherlands. According to the Prosecution’s indictment, Lipovac is indicted of taking part in the detention of civilians in the detention camps in Poljar (municipality of Derventa), and of torture, abuse and robbery.

“He is indicted for the murder of two victims of Serb ethnicity,” the indictment alleges.

The extradition procedure against Basic and Nezirovic from the USA has lasted several years, and the District Prosecutor’s Office in Doboj leads the investigation against them for crimes against Serbs in Derventa.

The judicial proceedings against Edina Sakoc and Zdenko Jakisa are led in the USA over allegations that they gave false information about their wartime role when entering the country. The Prosecution Office of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton said that Jakisa is suspected of crimes against civilians.

If found guilty, he will be deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although the indictment against Sakoc, which was raised in the USA for providing false information, says that he raped a Serb woman in Herzegovina in summer 1992, and helped in the killing of two members of her family, it is not known whether any Prosecution Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina has requested his extradition. He has denied any involvement in these crimes.

For example, due to providing false information claiming that they were not members of any army and because of the suspicion that they committed war crimes, the USA extradited several people to the judicial authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Extraditions are based on the European Convention on Extradition, the Law on International Assistance in Criminal Matters, and on the agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the states which are carrying out the extradition.

Lawyer Leila Covic says that for any person whose extradition is requested, it is necessary to provide evidence of reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence.

Besides that and the number of other documents, it sometimes happens that the extradition was originally rejected. In Dautovic’s case, Norway refused extradition because of unsatisfactory conditions in prisons, violations of human rights of prisoners and the like.

Nevertheless, after submitting extensive documentation, Dautovic was extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina. His trial for crimes in Velika Kladusa has not yet finished.

As lawyer Covic says, the length of the extradition procedure is also influenced by objections of the indictee, who use the opportunity to appeal against the court decision. Nezirovic is also among those who is opposed to the extradition. In summer 2014, the court in the USA suspended Nezirovic’s extradition until the procedure regarding his appeal process for unlawful detention had not ended.

On the other hand, Vlahovic was extradited from Spain after about five months. He was sentenced to 42 years in prison for multiple murders, rapes and other crimes in Sarajevo’s three neighbouring territories that were under the control of the Army of Republika Spska (VRS).

Freedom after extradition

According to information available to BIRN, from 2010 until today, 15 people were extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina for genocide in Srebrenica and other crimes.

Four people have been sentenced by second instance verdicts, while seven people are waiting, and one person is currently on a first instance trail. Dejan Radojkovic and Nedjo Ikonic, who were deported from the United States, were acquitted by second instance verdicts.

Ikonic spent almost the entire trial for genocide in Srebrenica in custody, but he was acquitted in 2013. As stated in the verdict, the Prosecution did not prove “beyond reasonable doubt” Ikonic’s presence during the execution of prisoners from Srebrenica. 

“Nedjo Ikonic spent 793 days in custody. The one thing is to spend ten, 15 days or one month in custody, but when you are in custody for two-and-a-half years, then one can imagine what it means to the psyche of man,” says Nenad Rubez, Ikonic’s lawyer.

Ikonic lived with his family in the USA until he was arrested in 2006 on charges that he gave false information when entering the country. He was found guilty and deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010 on suspicion of having committed genocide in Srebrenica.

After the trial ended, he filed a complaint regarding the time he spent in custody. Although he requested 164,000 Konvertible marks (82,000 Euros), the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to pay much less to Ikonic, around 40,000 Konvertible marks (around 20,000 Euros).

As Grubez says, Ikonic could not lodge the plaint for pecuniary damages in the USA, because he was deported and arrested on a warrant issued in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In addition to distant countries, suspects also found refuge in Serbia and Croatia. Besides the citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they have Serbian or Croatian citizenship, and those countries do not extradite their citizens.

The trial for four indictees against whom the District Court in Doboj confirmed the indictment of war crimes in 2011 did not start because they live in Croatia.

As they say in the Prosecutor’s office in Doboj, “the indictees are located at known addresses in Slavonski Brod, but they are currently not available to domestic judicial authorities.” 

Trials for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina have, however, already taken place in some countries, such as Norway and Sweden.

Amer Jahić

This post is also available in: Bosnian