Jezik / Language:
22 December 2006

Busy year for Bosnian War Crimes Chamber

Mirna Mekić, Aida Alić BIRN BiH Sarajevo
During 2006 Bosnia’s war crimes chamber confirmed 19 indictments and passed nine verdicts handing out 130 years and four months of prison time in total.
During the past year, the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed 19 indictments against 25 persons whom the prosecution believes were responsible for crimes committed against civilians during the war.

The total number of suspects and indictees on the Proseuction’s files is 2300 out of which 369 cases have been opened.

A total of nine verdicts were passed down, three of which are legally valid following the appeals process. The others are currently before the Appellate Chamber.

The sentences passed in 2006 amount to 130 years and four months imprisonment and 49 years of imprisonment within the three legally valid judgments.

Still, almost all verdicts caused controversy in Bosnia, usually involving anger among victims' groups over the length of sentences given to the guilty.

On the other hand, international analysts believe that the verdicts passed down in the first active year of operation of the War Crimes Chamber are a historic step forward for the Bosnian justice system.

Three legally valid verdicts were passed- for Abduladhim Maktouf for crimes committed in Travnik, Dragoje Paunovic forcrimes committed in Rogatica, and Nedjo Samardzic for crimes committed in Foca.


Of these three, two were passed following retrials held after appeals judges noticed omissions during evidence procedures.

The original verdict from July 2005 which sentenced Maktouf to five years of prison was confirmed on April 4, 2006, after a retrial held before the Appellate Chamber. Maktouf, a Bosnian of Iraqi origin, was found guilty of participating in war crimes against civilian population in Travnik municipality committed on October 18, 1992.

Maktouf assisted El Mujahed unit members, which was part of Third Corps of Army of BiH, in the illegal arrest, detention and abduction of five civilians of Croat nationality.

The verdict confirmed the charges according to which Abuladhim Maktouf drove one of two vehicles used for transportation of detainees and took part "in the planning of operation before the abduction, the abduction itself and everything that followed afterwards".

The Appellate Chamber also ordered a retrial after the first-instance verdict passed down to Nedjo Samardzic sentenced the Bosnian Serb to 12 years imprisonment for crimes committed in Foca. Following the appeals process, on December 13, 2006 Samardzic was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity including murders, detention, deportation, rapes and sexual abuse.

Among other things, he was found guilty as charged for raping and enslaving girls, young girls and women in the notorious Karaman House, which, based on evidence, was found to "have had the elements of a detention camp for women" where "the detained women represented legitimate war plunder".

The Samardzic retrial started at the end of November and lasted nine days. As opposed to the first-instance trial, this process was fully open to the public and those who attended heard disturbing stories about the Karaman House detainees.

One of these, a young girl who was brought in at the age of 12, is still missing. The witness who talked of this 12-year-old girl said that she had dolls with her when she was brought to the camp.

On November 23, 2006 the Appellate Chamber confirmed the first-instance verdict which sentenced Dragoje Paunovic for execution of 24 civilians on Jacen hill near Rogatica. Paunovic's verdict was the first one ever passed down for crimes committed on the territory of Rogatica.

Witness Armin Bazdar, who was a young boy when he survived the execution on Jacen hill, faced Paunovic, recognised him in the courtroom, described in detail the events that took place in August 1992 and was present at the investigation at the crime scene.

After the verdict was announced, Bazdar told Justice Report reporters that he is "only partially satisfied with the verdict".

Soon after the Paunovic trial was over, Radisav "Pjano" Ljubinac – an alleged accomplice in the crime - was arrested and his trial is currently in progress.


In 2006, The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) transferred seven persons for trial in Sarajevo as part of its exit strategy. Analysts see this as proof that the Hague tribunal has faith that its suspects will receive a fair trial before the Bosnian court.

Pasko Ljubicic (charged with crimes against Bosniaks in Vitez); Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic (charged with crimes committed in Foca); Zeljko Mejakic, Momcilo Gruban, Dusan Fustar and Dusko Knezevic (charged with crimes committed in Prijedor) have joined Radovan Stankovic and Gojko Jankovic, both of whom were charged with crimes committed in Foca, in the Bosnian court's detention unit.

Hague indictee Dragan Zelenovic, charged with war crimes committed in Foca, who was extradited by Russian government on June 8, 2006, also briefly appeared at the Bosnian court, but was then transferred to The Hague.

The Bosnian court has confirmed a total of five indictments that came from The Hague, based on which one verdict was passed down - that against Radovan Stankovic who was transferred in September 2005.

Stankovic's trial began in the summer of 2006 and the first-instance verdict of 16 years imprisonment was pronounced in November.

Stankovic, who was convicted of crimes against civilians in Foca and the rape of women and girls in locations including the Karaman House, was mostly absent from his trial and the process itself was closed to the public. This resulted in protests from both local and some international non-governmental organisations.

Mirsad Tokaca, director of the Investigation and Documentation Centre, told Justice Report that the closing of the process to the public denied them their right to have timely information about the case, "which is key for building trust in the Court of BiH".

Regardless of the protests, the court did not change its decision to conduct the trial behind closed doors and justified it with the need to protect witnesses.

It is expected that the Appellate Chamber will make a decision on the case next year, following the appeals filed by both sides after the verdict was passed down.

Although this process was closed to the public, Justice Report was able to learn that Stankovic was excessively rude to everyone in the courtroom, that he sent offensive letters to the judges and finally refused to come to the hearings and the verdict. Although the law allows it, the court decided not to punish him for this behaviour.


Momcilo Mandic, Radovan Karadzic's former justice minister, is the highest official on trial in BiH for war crimes. The prosecution believes that Mandic was responsible for operation of the correctional facilities which were formed in 1992 in former Srpska Republika BiH.

Mandic is also charged with leading the attack on a Bosnian internal affairs ministry staff training centre in the Sarajevo suburb Vraca at the beginning of April 1992.

Earlier this year, Mandic was sentenced to nine years imprisonment by a legally valid verdict before the Department for Organised Crime of the same court for abuse of position and forging of documentation which he committed as director of the Commercial Bank Srpsko Sarajevo.

Mandic is the only indictee to appear before the court without handcuffs. Although earlier some indictees have asked for the same privilege, the court has not fulfilled those requests.


The biggest trial taking place before the Bosnian court is the one against 11 indictees charged with genocide committed in July 1995 against Bosniaks in Kravica village near Srebrenica. That is also the only genocide indictment filed to date.

Ten former members of police forces andone Army of Republika Srpska soldier are on trial. Until they were arrested, four were members of Republika Srpska police forces and for the duration of the trial they are registered as suspended and are receiving around 40 per cent of their salaries.

"The term Srebrenica will forever stay in the minds of people in BiH, on the consciousness of international community and will enter history as one of the darkest words," prosecutor Ibro Bulic said at the beginning of this trial.

The prosecution began presenting its evidence in May; by the end of the year they had questioned 45 witnesses and intend to submit around 200 documents.

Numerous controversies have accompanied this process, from witnesses who changed their testimonies, to those who claimed that State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) employees extracted answers from them during questioning.

Two Bosniaks who survived the executionin Kravica were among the witnesses and have appeared under protective measures.

During this year, the court has followed the ICTY's practice of treating rape as a war crime. Female victims have stood across from the men accused of such crimes and told their stories to the court. The majority have asked for the maximum protective measures available.

Around ten women testified at the trial of Gojko Jankovic, who was charged with rape and detention of women and underage girls - either carried out by him personally, or by others in his presence. Witness 186 told the court that she was raped for the first time in 1992, when she was 12 years old. She claims that she was Jankovic's personal sex slave for six months.

"I knew that he was married and had three children. One of his daughters was one year younger than me. I asked him how he could rape someone who is the same age as his daughter. That made him really angry. I was too afraid to insist on the answer," 186 said.


An indictment has been filed for the first time since the war, for rapes committed in Visegrad during the war. The Bosnian prosecution has charged Zeljko Lelek, who was a policeman in this town until he was arrested, with murders, rapes and abuses of civilians in the town on the Drina river.

And for the first time since the end of the war, the United States of America extradited war crimes suspects to a country in the Balkans.

A group against whom an investigation is being conducted for crimes against Bosniaks in Srebrenica committed in July 1995, including Mladen Blagojevic and Zdravko Bozic, is now held in custody in Sarajevo. These Bosnian Serbs were arrested in USA under the suspicion that they gave false data on their involvement in the war to the immigration authorities.

Zdravko Bencun, who was released after a one-month investigation, was among those who were deported and detained.

The investigation against Mithat Ramic,who was suspected of involvement in the murder of nine Bosnian army members in 1993 in Repovci, Herzegovina, also ended without an indictment being filed and he was released.

The trials of Pasko Ljubicic, SavoTodovic and Mitar Rasevic and Zeljko Lelek should start at the beginning of next year.

A decision of the Hague tribunal on transfer of other proposed cases to Sarajevo is also being expected. Such decisions are pending for Dragan Zelenovic, charged with war crimes in Foca, Sredoje and Milan Lukic, suspected of having committed crimes against civilians in Visegrad, and Milan Trbic, accused of crimes in Srebrenica.

Nidzara Ahmetasevis is an editor with Justice Report ([email protected]) Mirna Mekic and Aida Alicare Justice Report reporters. Justice Report is an internet publication of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.
comments powered by Disqus