8. April 2020.
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.


2. April 2020.
A lawyer representing Ratko Mladic, who is appealing against his conviction for genocide and other crimes, said the former Bosnian Serb military chief has left hospital after having a colon operation.

Miodrag Stojanovic, one of the lawyers representing Ratko Mladic at his trial in The Hague, told BIRN that the former Bosnian Serb military commander had a colon operation on Monday and has now left hospital.

“He was discharged from the hospital yesterday [Wednesday] and returned to the [UN] detention unit [in the Netherlands],” said Stojanovic.

Appeals against the verdict convicting Mladic of wartime crimes including genocide were due to be heard at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals on March 17 and 18, but were postponed so he could have the operation.

The Hague court initially said that the hearings would be rescheduled for about six weeks after the operation to allow Mladic to recover. However, court sessions have now been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The court sentenced Mladic to life imprisonment in November 2017, finding him guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the siege of the city, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Mladic appealed against the verdict, as did the Hague prosecution, which is calling for him to be found guilty of genocide in six other municipalities in 1992.

A date for the final verdict has not yet been set, but Carmel Agius, president of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, has said it will be delivered by the end of this year.

Mladic, 76, has had several serious health problems while in detention in the Netherlands and has suffered two strokes and a heart attack.

An association of lawyers working at international courts last week urged the Hague court to grant early or provisional release to elderly war crime convicts to protect them from the coronavirus.


2. April 2020.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s blanket bans on certain age groups from going outdoors during the pandemic are not only harsh, arbitrary and discriminatory – but also risk worsening public health outcomes.

Emina Cerimovic, Margaret Wurth and Bethany Brown

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not alone in using age as a determinant for developing guidance to particular populations, but has taken it to extremes by creating a punishable offence that only certain age groups can be charged with.

The rights group Human Rights Watch has received official data showing that between March 20 and 30, police in Republika Srpska issued 217 fines to older people, and that police in the Sarajevo Canton issued 20 such fines, some to children.

The spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in the Canton of Sarajevo said that older people who ask for permission to leave their homes in exceptional circumstances, for example, to visit a doctor, will not be fined. The spokesperson also clarified that the average fine was 500 Marks, or about 255 euros, which is higher the average monthly pension in either the Federation [less than 420 Marks] or Republika Srpska [less than 380 Marks].

International law permits restrictions on certain rights, and at times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, more extensive restrictions may be justified. But they still have to be evidence-based and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. And they also need to be limited in duration, subject to review, and necessary and proportionate to achieve the objective.

The orders in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not meet these criteria. First, singling out age as the sole determinant is problematic. While older people are among those at high risk of death from COVID-19, there are also increased risks for people of any age with certain underlying health conditions. These include heart and lung diseases, including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and compromised immune systems, and likely current or recent pregnancy. Growing evidence globally shows that adults across all age groups may ultimately require hospitalization if they contract COVID-19.

If the objective of the order is to protect people at high risk, limiting it to people over 65 is arbitrary. There are effective ways to prevent exposure, such as social distancing and strict hygiene including hand washing and not touching your face. Banning people from going outside is not strictly necessary.

Research also suggests that children with COVID-19 have less severe symptoms and lower mortality rates than other age groups. There is little evidence that children play a significant role in asymptomatic transmission, and there is no need to restrict their right to go outdoors, if they adhere to the same social distancing restrictions as adults.

The order can also be a burden on parents and a challenge for children if they must stay confined for extended periods of time. One mother of two boys, aged three and 11, told us: “The kids have been confined to the house for 15 days now. The boys are restless and nervous. They are bored. They sleep less. The older one has tantrums and the younger one cries more often. …I’ve always been in favour of avoiding gatherings, playrooms and parks full of children during flu season, for example. But I don’t understand why now they cannot even go out a few meters from our apartment building, or get in and out of [the] car.”

Older people subject to such extreme social isolation may struggle to get food, health services and medicine, and their health and mental well-being may be harmed as a result. The daughter of a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in Zenica told us: “Fortunately, neighbours help out and make sure she has food…. [It’s] more the psychological impact. It is not easy to handle this isolation, especially for people who live alone.

“What really made me sad the other day was when mom told me: ‘If I could just go out to throw away the trash’ …How terrifying it is that it would mean something to her to be able to walk for 20 or 30 meters to the trash container!”

Many governments in Europe and beyond are taking extraordinary measures to protect public health during the pandemic. In some cases, it will be difficult to determine whether responses are proportionate and comply with international norms. But blanket measures that impose an undue burden on certain age groups, and may in fact create other risks for them, are neither strictly necessary nor based on the best evidence.

Indeed, they can undermine public health, not least by leading other people to believe that they face minimal or no risk, or undermining the important message of other more effective preventive measures. The authorities in both entities should immediately end the system of fines and misdemeanours, revoke the current orders and drop a criminal law approach.

Better to opt instead to require everyone to practice evidence-based measures, including social distancing, hand washing and isolation of those who become sick or who have been exposed. Such measures, which can be monitored and reviewed as the pandemic runs its course, will help protect the right to health and prevent disease transmission without discrimination.

Emina Cerimovic is a senior disability rights researcher; Margaret Wurth is a senior children’s rights researcher; and Bethany Brown is a researcher specializing in the rights of older people, all at Human Rights Watch.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.


1. April 2020.
The Bosnian Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by Zarko Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb Army soldier who was sentenced to seven years in prison for repeatedly raping a woman in Foca in 1992.

Bosnia’s Constitutional Court said that it has rejected Zarko Vukovic’s appeal against his conviction, describing as unfounded his claim that his right to a fair trial was violated.

The court’s decision, made on March 26, said that “nothing points to a violation of the right to a fair trial”, and that the way the facts and evidence in the Vukovic case were assessed “does not give the impression of arbitrariness”.

Former Bosnian Serb Army soldier Vukovic was found guilty of repeatedly raping a woman in Foca in eastern Bosnia and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Vukovic forced the victim into the basement of her house and raped her several times from April to August 1992, the verdict said.

He appealed against the verdict but the state court’s appeals chamber rejected his plea and upheld the conviction in January 2018.


31. March 2020.
A court lifted restrictions imposed on a Turkish school employee, but for the intelligence service he remains a ‘threat to national security’.

A court in Bosnia and Herzegovina has terminated restrictions on the movement of Turkish citizen Fatih Keskin, previously imposed by the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs following his arrest and subsequent release in December last year, the court told BIRN BiH.

Wanted in Turkey, Keskin was arrested on December 3, 2019 and transferred to the migrant detention centre of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs after the Service revoked his residence permit.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered his release on December 16 but the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs – acting on an intelligence service assessment that he posed a threat to national security – required Keskin to report to its Bihac office in northwestern Bosnia three times a week and restricted his movements to the area between Bihac and the capital, Sarajevo.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered the restrictions lifted.

“Lower-instance decisions by administrative bodies have been annulled, and all the prohibitive measures imposed on him have been terminated. Previous decisions by administrative bodies have been annulled and they are not in force anymore,” Keskin’s lawyer, Ahmet Efendic, told BIRN.

Efendic said he could not rule out new measures being imposed given the Intelligence and Security Agency, OSA, had not changed its assessment.

“It is still in force,” he said. “The position of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs is that, as long as the assessment is in force, they would have to impose prohibitive measures.”

Keskin is an employee of Una-Sana College in Bihac, part of the Richmond Park Group in Sarajevo. Richmond is the legal successor to Bosna Sema educational institutions, which has been linked to the exiled Turkish cleric accused of orchestrating a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016

The US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, denies any role in the abortive coup, but schools linked to him around the world have come under intense pressure from Ankara.

Efendic said the law firm where he works represents four other Turkish nationals who also had their residence permits revoked following a visit to Sarajevo by Erdogan in July 2019 but faced no prohibitive measures on their movements. The decisions to revoke residence have each been overturned.

The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs did not reply to a request from BIRN BiH to confirm how many proceedings are in process against Turkish citizens and whether any have been concluded.


31. March 2020.
Former reservist policeman Milorad Krunic has been charged with crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in the killing of six civilians in the Sanski Most area in 1992.

The Bosnian state court has confirmed an indictment charging former reservist policeman Milorad Krunic, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, with crimes against humanity, BIRN has learned.

The indictment alleges that Krunic supervised the transportation of male civilian prisoners from detention facilities in a sports hall and a factory in Sanski Most to the Manjaca detention camp on June 11, 1992.

According to the charges, Krunic separated six prisoners from the others and then participated in murdering them by the roadside between Pavici and Hazici.

The indictment claims that his crime was committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on the Bosniak and Croat civilian population in the municipality of Sanski Most by the Bosnian Serb Army, along with police officers and paramilitaries.