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27 February 2015
News

Fugitive Bosnian Serb General’s Case in Limbo

Denis Dzidic and Marija Ristic BIRN BiH Sarajevo and Beograd
Former Bosnian Serb general Novak Djukic fled to Serbia last year after being convicted of wartime crimes in Tuzla, but there is no indication when or if Belgrade will jail him.
Djukic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Ozren Tactical Group, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June last year for ordering an artillery squad to shell the town of Tuzla on May 25, 1995. Seventy-one people were killed in the attack.

But the former general didn’t turn up to start serving his sentence, claiming he was having medical treatment in Serbia. He has not returned to Bosnia since.

An international arrest warrant was issued by the Bosnian authorities in October 2014, but Djukic cannot be extradited to Bosnia because he has Serbian citizenship. The two countries do not have a mutual extradition treaty.

But he could be jailed in Serbia, which signed an agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010 which allows Sarajevo and Belgrade to ask each other to take over the enforcement of the sentence.

However the Bosnian Ministry of Justice has told BIRN that the state court, which sentenced Djukic, has yet to request that Serbia do this.

“The Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the institution in charge of assisting international legal aid, can only act when it receives a request from the court,” said the ministry.

The Bosnian state court has meanwhile said it will only file the request “once Djukic has been located or arrested”.

Meanwhile the Serbian Ministry of Justice declined to comment on Djukic despite several requests from BIRN from December 2014 onwards.

The Serbian government has however said that according to the constitution, every citizen of Serbia is protected from extradition as the constitution forbids the delivering of its citizens to foreign countries even in cases when sentences have been passed or the person is wanted by Interpol.

The Bosnian and Serbian state prosecutions also have a special agreement on cooperation in war crimes cases, but despite claiming that their cooperation is “excellent”, the Serbian war crimes prosecution said that the issue of Djukic “goes beyond our office”.

“This is a question for the Ministry of Justice,” chief Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told BIRN.

“Everything can be resolved. For example, with the Croats we have an agreement where our citizens who have been convicted there are serving sentences here. Djukic has Serbian citizenship. Serbia will not extradite him, as he is protected by its citizenship. If he asserts his citizenship, he is protected by the constitution,” Vukcevic added.

Djukic has been out of custody for exactly a year, after being released from a Bosnian prison in February 2014.

Djukic's lawyer Milorad Ivosevic told BIRN that his client has no intention of going back to Bosnia, adding that the defence team has conducted a crime scene reconstruction since Djukic has been in Serbia, which he claimed proves the former general's innocence.

“We will request that his case be entirely retried in front of the Serbian judiciary. We are currently waiting for international experts to review our findings. I can tell you this entire case is a conspiracy to convict an innocent man, the biggest conspiracy in European history,” said Ivosevic.

While lawyers and state institutions wrangle over legal issues, Sinan Alic, the president of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation association from Tuzla, said that the victims of the 1995 shelling of the town have entirely been forgotten.

“The families of those killed are truly bitter. The families are wondering why politics are being involved and how come Serbia and Bosnia can cooperate but not finish this war crimes issue. We have such legal loopholes which allow people to hide like this in Serbia, and I doubt he will ever serve his time,” Alic told BIRN.

Ivosevic said that he was sorry for all the victims, but that Djukic was not the man responsible for their deaths.

“True justice for those victims would be to find the real perpetrator and punish the truly guilty person,” he said.

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