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28 December 2007
Analysis

Three Thousand Days of Detention

Erna Mackic BIRN BiH Sarajevo
In 2007, the Court of BiH ordered custody for 29 war crimes suspects, some of whom were eventually indicted, while others were released without charge.
Acting on warrants issued by the Prosecution of BiH, the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) in 2007 arrested 29 persons considered to have committed war crimes on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.

During this year, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered a total of 3,761 days of detention for suspects. Shortly after being arrested and put into custody, some suspects were released under certain restrictive measures - such as a ban on leaving their place of residence, an obligation to report to a police station on a regular basis, or a prohibition from contacting potential witnesses.

Others were put into custody right away, where they spent a few months until the indictments against them were filed or final decisions on their status were made.

According to the current Law on Criminal Procedure, suspects may be held in custody for a maximum of nine months following their arrest. Unless an indictment is filed within that period, the suspect must be released.

On average, suspects had to wait around four months for such decisions in 2007.

Awaiting indictments

The war crimes unit within the Court of BiH has been hearing war crimes since 2005.

In 2007, for the first time ever, the prosecution did not ask for custody but instead for the introduction of restrictive measures against some suspects arrested earlier this year. Prosecutors justified their decision by the suspects’ readiness to appear atthe court whenever summoned.

The case of Radenko Stanic, Goran Garic, Djordje Ilic, Dragisa Tesic and Rajko Losic, who are suspected of having committed crimes against humanity, is one example of this.

The prosecution concluded that it was not necessary to request custody for these suspects, as “they regularly appear atthe court when summoned”. Nevertheless, due to the possibility that the suspects might flee to Serbia and thus evade justice, the prosecution requested the introduction of certain prohibiting measures. As a result, the suspects may not leave their place of residence, have to report to competent authorities on a regular basis and are not allowed to meet with other people.

These suspects are considered to have been involved in the unlawful detention and maltreatment of Bosniak civilians on the territory of Vlasenica municipality in the period from May 1992 to an unknown date in 1996.

Two other suspects, Admir Kalem and Ahmed Sadikovic, were released without charge after two months in custody “because the grounded suspicion ceased to exist”.

The custody of Kalem and Sadikovic was originally ordered by the district court of Eastern Sarajevo, but the case was eventually referred to the Prosecution of BiH due to its “sensitivity”.

In 2007, Enes Handzic, Senad Dautovic, Nisvet Gasal and Musajb Kukavica spent the longest time in custody.

Handzic and Dautovic were arrested in mid April, while Gasal and Kukavica were arrested on March 22. They are alleged to have committed crimes against Croatian civilians in the Bugojno area.

War crimes suspects are currently being held in detention units all over the country, in Foca, Doboj, Banja Luka, Mostar and Eastern Sarajevo, as the Court of BiH's detention unit has only 21 cells and is usually full to capacity. At present, there is no state prison in BiH. A foundation stone for anew state prison has been laid, but the building is not expected to be ready for some years.

At present, persons suspected of having committed crimes in Velika Kladusa area (Suljo Karajic), Kotor Varos (Mirko Skrobic), Foca (Momir Savic), Kljuc (Vinko Kondic), Hadzici (Rade Veselinovic, Azemin Sadikovic, Admir Kalem and Ahmed Sadikovic), Tuzla (Novak Djukic), Nevesinje (Krsto Savic and Mile Mucibabic) and Doboj area (Predrag Kujundzic) are held in custody awaiting indictments against them to be filed.

This year, the Court of BiH confirmed indictments against 17 persons who allegedly committed war crimes in Bugojno (Kukavica, Gasal, Handzic and Dautovic), in Jajce (Mirko Pekez, son of Spiro; Mirko Pekez, son of Mile, and Milorad Savic), Kalinovik (Ratko Bundalo, Djordjislav Askraba and Nedjo Zeljaja), Borkovac settlement in Bratunac (Mirko Todorovic and Milos Radic), Foca (Rajko and Ranko Vukovic), Vogosca (Mladen Milanovic), Sanski Most (Suad Kapic) and Kljuc (Idhan Sipic).

Possibility of escape

Citing the reasons for custody order motions, the prosecution most frequently mentioned the possibility that suspects might leave the country; may influence witnesses or accessories, and the severity of punishment that may be prescribed for the particular crimes.

Serbia and Croatia are most often mentioned as the countries to which the suspects may flee. It often happens that Bosnian citizens of Croat or Serb ethnicity also have citizenships of one of those countries, whose constitutions do not allow for extradition of their citizens to other countries.

By law, in addition to a custody order, which is considered to be “the least preferred” measure, the court may also order certain restrictive measures and accept bail.

Kreso Lucic, charged with having committed war crimes in Kresevo, offered bail in order to be released from custody, which was accepted by the Court of BiH. His defence handed over his travel documents and submitted evidence that his property, worth KM 200,000, was mortgaged.

In mid September Lucic was sentenced, by a first instance verdict, to six years’ imprisonment. He is still free but, in addition to the bail, he is obliged to report to a competent police station ona daily basis.

The Court of BiH ordered prohibiting measures against suspects Sreten Lazarevic, Dragan Stanojevic, Mile Markovic and Slobodan Ostojic, which were dismissed shortly after.

Lazarevic and others are charged, as “members of the reserve police forces with the Public Safety Centre in Zvornik and the former Serbian Republic of BiH Army”, with having maltreated Bosniaks detained in the criminal offence court building and “Novi izvor” factory in Zvornik between May 1992 and March 1993.

The prosecution considered that it was not necessary to file a custody order motion in the case of Ferid Hodzic and Veiz Bjelic, suspected of crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in Vlasenica municipality.

The Prosecution of BiH filed an indictment against Hodzic and Bjelic on November 23, but the court has still not confirmed it. The two men are charged with having captured and tortured Serbian civilians and prisoners of war in “Stala” prison in Vlasenica during the armed conflict between the former Territorial Defence (TO) of the Republic of BiH and the former Serbian Republic of BiH Army conducted in 1992.

Every month, the court inspects if the reasons for custody or prohibitive measures are still valid. Following a similar inspection, indictee Rajko Vukovic was re-arrested, despite his earlier release from custody and introduction of prohibitive measures. The Court of BiH explained that the indictee was arrested again due to the “existence of certain circumstances, which indicate that, should he remain at liberty, the indictee might attempt to influence the criminal proceeding by influencing witnesses and accessories”.

In the course of his trial, indictee Sefik Alicwas allowed to defend himself while on bail, after spending 11 months in detention.

The Court of BiH ordered his release and introduced certain prohibiting measures, including “a ban on attending social gatherings on theterritory of Buzim and Bosanska Krupa municipalities“, as well as “a ban on meeting the witnesses whose names are mentioned in the indictment”.

Alic is charged, as former member of the Army of BiH, with having failed to punish the killer of four Serbian prisoners of war during operation Storm.

Earlier this year, Goran Damjanovic was released from custody while certain restrictive measures were ordered against him, including the confiscation of his passport, personal ID card, driving license and other personal documents. The custody release decision, rendered by the Court of BiH, prohibited Damjanovic from leaving the Eastern Sarajevo area and ordered him to report to the Public Safety Centre in Eastern Sarajevo on a daily basis.

Goran Damjanovic and his brother Zoran were sentenced to a total of 22 years and six months’ imprisonment for having beaten up civilians in Bojnik settlement near Sarajevo in 1992. Following the pronouncement of the verdict, the two brothers were released from custody until the Appellate Chamber confirmed the verdict. After that, they were sent to prison to serve their sentences.

Jadranko Palija also defended himself while on bail. Following the pronouncement of afirst instance verdict against him, sentencing him to 28 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in Sanski Most, he was arrested as he was leaving the courtroom. The court rendered an order putting him under custody until a second instance verdict was pronounced.

Marko Samardzija, who is charged with having committed war crimes in Kljuc, was sentenced to 28 years’ imprisonment by a first instance verdict. The verdict was revoked and he is now awaiting the commencement of a retrial while at liberty. Restrictive measures against Samardzija have been pronounced, which means that he has to report to the police station in Prijedor twice a week and has no right to visit Kljuc municipality.

Pasko Ljubicic has probably been in detention for the longest time of all the indictees and suspects. He was first held in detention unit in Scheveningen, The Hague, and then in Sarajevo after the Tribunal transferred him to state court for further processing.

The defence team of Ljubicic, who has been held in custody for six years, has requested that their client be released on several occasions. At one stage it offered a bail, by mortgaging his property worth KM 200,000, but the Trial Chamber rejected the proposal.

Ljubicicis charged, as commander of the Fourth Military Police Battalion with the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), with having committed war crimes in central Bosnia during the conflict between the Army of BiH and HVO.


Erna Mackic is a journalist with BIRN – Justice Report. [email protected]
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