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The Bosnian court told BIRN that two convicts who were due to be freed after their sentences were quashed – one of whom was serving a sentence for involvement in the Srebrenica genocide – will not now be released before they are retried under the correct criminal code, after a ruling by the country’s constitutional court.
The decision follows the controversial release of convicts in nearly 20 war crimes cases in recent months after it was ruled that the Bosnian criminal code was wrongly used at their trials instead of the more lenient Yugoslav criminal code, which was in force at the time that the crimes were committed.
One of the released convicts, Novak Djukic, who was sentenced to 20 years for ordering an artillery strike on the town of Tuzla that killed 71 people, absconded to Serbia after being released, before he could be retried.
The Bosnian court told BIRN that the constitutional court’s decision means that Milorad Trbic, who was convicted of involvement in the Srebrenica genocide, and Ante Kovac, who was jailed for war crimes in Vitez in 1993, will not now be released before being retried.
The retrials were ordered after the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in 2013 that the Bosnian court used the wrong criminal code in two cases.
Other convicts in the same situation then filed appeals to the Bosnian constitutional court, resulting in their release and retrial.
The releases caused fear of retribution among victims of war crimes and concerns that others might flee the country in a bid to evade justice.
Meddzida Kreso, the president of the Bosnian court, told BIRN that the quashing of these verdicts was the biggest challenge for her institution over the past year because “the legal framework for the execution of imprisonment sentences and custody measures ceased to exist in the case of persons who were sentenced for the gravest violations of the international humanitarian laws”.