Serbian Security Chiefs Appeal Conviction for Aiding War Crimes

7. September 2021.17:01
Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, who were convicted of aiding war crimes committed by Serbian fighters during the Bosnian conflict, claimed there was not enough evidence to declare them guilty and called for their sentences to be overturned.

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Jovica Stanisic i Franko Simatovic. Photo: EPA/Michael Kooren / REUTERS POOL

Lawyers for former Serbian State Security Service officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic appealed on Monday against the verdict in June which sentenced them both to 12 years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

The UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague convicted them of aiding and abetting the crimes committed by a State Security Service special fighting unit in the Bosanski Samac area, but acquitted them of responsibility for other crimes committed by Serb units elsewhere in Bosnia and in Croatia during the wars there in the early 1990s.

This verdict was the first-ever conviction of top Serbian wartime officials for crimes during the wars that broke out during the break-up of Yugoslavia. It also confirmed more details that establish that the Serbian state had involvement in the conflicts in Bosnia and in Croatia, despite its denials.

In their notice of appeal, both Stanisic and Simatovic urged the court either to quash the verdict and declare them not guilty, or reduce their sentences.

Stanisic’s defence claimed that the trial chamber was mistaken when it determined that organising training for State Security Unit members and local Serb forces at the Pajzos camp in Croatia, and their deployment during the Serb takeover of Bosanski Samac, “was capable of amounting to practical assistance which had an effect, substantial or otherwise, on the perpetration of the crimes of persecution, murder, and forcible displacement by Unit members and local Serb forces”.

It also claimed that the trial chamber failed to identify a connection between the men’s alleged assistance and the crimes committed, which included a massacre in Crkvina in May 1992.

Stanisic’s defence further argued that because the court found that he did not control the perpetrators, or direct them during the commission of the crimes, “the trial chamber erred by failing to assess, or provide a reasoned opinion, as to how the practical assistance substantially affected the perpetration of the entirety of the crimes committed”.

Stanisic’s appeal said the court “failed to place proper weight on the evidence that showed that Stanisic was not part of the JCE [joint criminal enterprise]”.

Simatovic’s appeal claimed that the court made a series of errors, arguing that it incorrectly established that he set up the State Security Service’s Special Operations Unit from fighters trained in Croatia in 1991.

It also claimed that the court wrongly established that Simatovic had authority over the Special Operations Unit and agreed on “arrangements for the training of persons sent to Bosanski Samac [to fight]”.

“The trial chamber erred in facts and in law when it established that Simatovic was aware that by allowing persons sent to Bosanski Samac to use facilities and trainers he would be supporting military actions and in the context of the conflict at the time, the commission of crimes by these forces,” it said.

The prosecution has also appealed against the verdict, calling for higher sentences for both men.

It argued that the court should have found them guilty of being members of a ‘joint criminal enterprise’ to commit crimes during the Croatian and Bosnian wars, along with Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian political, military and police officials and leaders of Croatian and Bosnian Serbs.

The prosecution also said they should have been convicted of involvement in the forced displacement of civilians, and of aiding and abetting crimes committed in Zvornik, Doboj and Sanski Most in Bosnia, and in two self-proclaimed, rebel Serb-controlled territories in Croatia called the Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina and the Serbian Autonomous Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem.

Lamija Grebo

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