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Hague Court Denies Early Release to ‘Unrehabilitated’ Convicts

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The UN court in The Hague has rejected requests for early release from three war crimes convicts because they have not shown signs that they have been rehabilitated – a move applauded by Bosnian war victims’ organisation.
Bosnian war victims’ representatives have welcomed decisions by Carmel Agius, president of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, to reject requests for early release filed by war crimes convicts because he thinks they have not demonstrated rehabilitation.

Miletic is serving his sentence in a prison in Finland. According to Finnish law, as well as the longstanding practices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY and its successor, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, MICT, Miletic had the right to seek early release, but the judges who sentenced him expressed disagreement with his early release considering the severity of his crimes.

One of those judges, Carmel Agius, told then MICT president Theodor Meron that another reason to reject Miletic’s request was because he had demonstrated “no signs of rehabilitation whatsoever”.

“According to judge Agius, the fact that Miletic recognises the severity of his actions, as he has stated through his defence attorney, is by no means sufficient to demonstrate rehabilitation, particularly considering the fact that Miletic was ‘cold, argumentative and uncompromising’ throughout the first instance trial,” Meron wrote in his decision.

At the beginning of 2019, only a few months after the decision in the Miletic case, Agius became the MICT’s president and continued the practice of seeking evidence about rehabilitation when deciding on early release requests.

In January this year, he rejected a request from wartime Croatian Defence Council fighter Miroslav Bralo, who asked to be released early from a Swedish prison where he is serving his 20-year sentence for the killings of Bosniak civilians, including children, in the village of Ahmici, near Vitez, in 1993.

“I generally do not consider it appropriate to enable convicted persons to return to the affected regions before they have served their full sentence, without having demonstrated a certain degree of rehabilitation, including that their release will not endanger peace and security in the envisaged place of residence,” Agius said in his decision.

Agius quoted a report by the Swedish prison medical officer, who said that Bralo “has no remorse for his acts”.

‘Positive move for war victims’

Carmel Agius. Photo: ICTY.

Murat Tahirovic, president of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, welcomed the new practice introduced by Agius.

“With the arrival of judge Agius, requests [for release] have been examined more thoroughly and all requests filed so far have been rejected. That is certainly positive for all victims, particularly witnesses,” Tahirovic told BIRN.

Others were more sceptical about the apparent change.

“I think that the fact that convicts are obliged to admit the commission of crimes as a precondition for their early release is completely unacceptable, particularly if they pleaded not guilty to crimes they were charged with during their trials. In this way they are somehow forced to admit guilt,” said Belgrade lawyer Aleksandar Lazarevic, who has represented clients at the Hague Tribunal.

At present, 16 people convicted by the ICTY of wartime crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina are serving their sentences, while two other convicts are waiting to be transferred to the countries where they will serve sentences- former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Croat military officer Milivoj Petkovic.

Last month, Agius rejected a request for the early release of Radoslav Brdjanin, the former political leader of the unrecognised, Serb-led Autonomous Region of Krajina, who was sentenced to 30 years for crimes against humanity.

In his decision, Agius said that “the severity of his crimes is an obstacle to his early release. Furthermore, Brdjanin has not demonstrated successful rehabilitation.”

While he was the Tribunal president, judge Meron rejected requests for early release of Stanislav Galic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, Goran Jelisic, a wartime Bosnian Serb detention camp guard, and former Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic, but only because they had not served two-thirds of their sentences.

Emina Dizdarević Tahmiščija

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