Bosnian Prosecution Stalls on Yugoslav Troop Death Appeals

24. July 2018.10:48
The Bosnian state prosecution has failed for six years to decide on appeals against a decision to stop an investigation into 14 people suspected of involvement in the killings of retreating Yugoslav People’s Army soldiers in Sarajevo in 1992. Six years after appeals were filed against a decision to stop an investigation into the killings of retreating Serb soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA on Dobrovoljacka Street in Sarajevo in 1992, the Bosnian state prosecution has still not taken any further action, the Interior Ministry in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska told BIRN.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

The appeals were filed in 2012 by families of the soldiers killed on Dobrovoljacka Street, with help from the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry.

After the prosecution failed to address them, the families filed a further appeal to the Bosnian constitutional court, which on January 17 this year gave prosecutors a three-month deadline to make a decision. This deadline was not met.

“The decision ordered to prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina to decide on the appeals without further delays, considering the fact that the Bosnian prosecution had not decided on this matter for six years,” said the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry.

The Bosnian prosecution did not respond to BIRN’s request for comment on the Dobrovoljacka case.

On May 3, 1992, just after the start of the war, violence erupted as a JNA convoy was withdrawing from Sarajevo.

The president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, was being held in the centre of the convoy, after he was taken from Sarajevo airport by JNA soldiers.

According to reports, there was an agreement he would be released once the convoy exited the city. In the afternoon of May 3, however, there was an exchange of fire between JNA soldiers and Territorial Defence units from Sarajevo.

Several JNA soldiers were killed and wounded – the exact number of casualties and the precise circumstances of the incident have still not been established.

The Bosnian prosecution conducted an investigation into 14 former military and political officers, but the investigation was halted in January 2012, as the prosecutor said although there was evidently a conflict between the JNA soldiers and Bosnian forces, it could not be proven that it was a war crime.

Families commemorate the soldiers killed on Dobrovoljacka street. Photo: BIRN.

One of those investigated was former Bosnian Army general Jovan Divjak, who was arrested in 2011 in Austria on a Serbian warrant accusing him of responsibility for the Serb JNA troops’ deaths on Dobrovoljacka Street. An Austrian court decided to extradite him to Sarajevo rather than to Belgrade, however.

Divjak argued that the prosecution’s decision in 2012 to halt the investigation was correct.

He quoted the wording of the decision: “The investigation over violations of the laws and customs of war for the attack on Dobrovoljacka Street on May 3, 1992 was halted because it was found your actions do not constitute a criminal act.”

Another of the suspects is Ejup Ganic, a wartime member of the Bosnian presidency, who was arrested in Britain on Serbia’s request. He was also extradited to Sarajevo, not to Belgrade as the Serbian authorities wanted.

Two years ago, Serbia sent a large body of evidence related to the Dobrovoljacka Street violence to Bosnia and Herzegovina. BIRN asked the Bosnian prosecution to see if it will reassess the closing of investigation or reopen it because of this new evidence, but received no reply.

In a similar case of JNA soldiers killed during a firefight with Bosnian forces as they were withdrawing from the town of Tuzla in 1992, a long-running investigation was also halted by the prosecutors.

Relatives of the dead soldiers, again assisted by the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry, then appealed against the decision to halt the probe – but in the Tuzla case, the prosecution rejected their appeals, meaning that the case is now closed.

Divjak complained that the Dobrovoljacka Street case is now only being kept alive by the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry and by the prosecution, because it will not make a final decision on the appeals from the deceased troops’ relatives.

He suggested there is “obviously no effort [on the part of the prosecution] to resolve the case”.

“All they are doing is holding the families in a state of limbo,” he said.

Meanwhile the 1992 incident also continues to be a source of controversy because of an ongoing dispute about whether Bosnian Serbs can install a memorial at the site of the soldiers’ deaths on Dobrovoljacka Street – which was long ago renamed Hamdija Kresevljakovic Street, after a Bosnian historian.

Erna Mačkić

This post is also available in: Bosnian