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23 November 2006
News

Paunovic: Second War Crimes Verdict of BiH Court Confirmed

BIRN BiH
Sentence in Paunovic case pronounced fully binding, confirming guilt for execution of 24 civilians in 1992.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed the First Instance Trial Chamber’s verdict, given in May of this year, in the case of  Dragoje Paunovic, sentencing him to 20 years in jail for crimes committed in Rogatica.

The Appellate Council dismissed as unfounded appeals made by the prosecution and the defence.

Paunovic’s guilty verdict for crimes against humanity rests on the finding that, at the time of an attack which took place between May and September 1992, executed by the army and police of the former Srpska Republika of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as paramilitary formations, he“ordered and executed the expulsion of civilians on a political, national, ethnic,cultural and religious basis”.

Evidence and witness testimonies led the Trial Chamber to conclude that, on August 15, 1992, Paunovic ordered and personally participated in the execution of 27 civilians in Duljevac village, near Rogatica.

Of the 27 victims, three survived and gave evidence during the trial. Three boys were among those killed.

The prosecution, defence and the indictee himself all challenged the first instance verdict, the prosecution seeking a higher sentence, and the defence revocation of the verdict. Both were denied, and the verdict fully confirmed.

One objection made by the defence was to the court’s decision to accept facts determined before the International Crime Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in trials against Miroslav Deronjic, Sime Zaric, Milomir Stakic, Dusko Tadic and Biljana Plavsic.

They refer to the existence of a wide and systematic attack on the non-Serb population in BiH.

The defence argued that the inductees right to a defence was violated by accepting parts of the ICTY verdicts as fact, bringing the fairness of the entire procedure into question.

Deliberating this, the Appellate Council found that the treatment of these Hague excerpts as fact was done in accordance with current laws and did not prevent the parties from, during the procedure, denying or refuting them. Rather, it meant “only that the burden of proof during rebuttal is transferred to the side which is denying them”.

It also noted that the findings in question are generally accepted as facts, putting the crime with which Paunovic was charged into the general context of war in BiH.

The Appellate Council also denied complaints made by the defence, where in it argued that the application of the Bosnian criminal code instead of Yugoslav laws valid when the crime was committed, violated “the principle of legality and validity of the criminal code”.

The law that was in effect in 1992 did not stipulate crimes against humanity, for which Paunovic was convicted.

The Appellate Council rejected this line of argument, with the justification that crimes against humanity are “an imperative principle of international law,” and that “it is unquestionable that in 1992 crimes against humanity were an integral part of customary international law”.

Both parties’ appeals regarding the length of the sentence were declined, the Council deciding that the first instance Trial Chamber had “correctly measured the sentence,” and that “it is adequate to achieve both the purpose of criminal deterrence as well as the purpose of punishment”.

This is the first verdict pronounced by the First Instance Trial Chamber of the Court of BiH to be confirmed by the Appellate Council,and the second before the War Crimes Chamber to be given the full force of law.
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