News 26 Feb 13

Dead Serbian Soldiers’ Families Win Compensation

A court ruled that the state denied a fair legal hearing to families of two soldiers killed at a Belgrade barracks where they alleged war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic was hiding.

Marija Ristic
Dragan Jakovljevic and Drazen Milovanovic

Serbia’s constitutional court accepted an appeal from the families of Dragan Jakovljevic and Drazen Milovanovic, two soldiers who died in mysterious circumstances on October 5, 2004, while on guard at a military barracks in Belgrade.

The court ruled that the state denied them the right to a fair hearing because it investigated the case for eight years but didn’t press any charges.

Each family was awarded 5,000 euro in compensation.

“This is a moral victory for the families and I hope it will result in finding those responsible for the killings. Money doesn’t mean anything to these people anymore,”  their lawyer, Predrag Savic, said on Monday.

Following the killings of the soldiers, the Serbian Army and its military court launched an investigation which resulted in a ruling that one soldier killed the other and then committed suicide.

But another investigation, initiated by the families, found that a third person killed the two servicemen.

The families also claimed last year that they had received unofficial confirmation that their children were killed because fugitive Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic was hiding in the barracks while on the run from an indictment at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

“A month ago we got a letter signed by the ‘former security of the ICTY indictee’ in which it was described what happened that day. The letter says that Mladic was present that day in the barracks and that our two boys noticed him,” said Janko Jakovljevic, the father of one of the dead soldiers, in July last year.

Jakovljevic said that Mladic requested that the two soldiers be killed.

But Serbia’s chief prosecutor for war crimes Vladimir Vukcevic responded that according to his office’s information, during that period Mladic was in New Belgrade, not at the barracks where the two soldiers died.

“However everything needs to be checked. I support all the efforts of the families to find those responsible,” Vukcevic said last July.

Jelena Milic from the Belgrade-based NGO Centre for Euro Atlantic Studies, who was one of the families’ legal representatives, said that Constitutional court ruling was a boost for their efforts to find those responsible for the killings.

“This ruling is a victory for the parents and their legal representatives, who can now seek justice before Strasbourg court of human rights,” Milic said.  

She added that the completion of the investigation and the identification of the network that helped Mladic while he was in hiding was crucial for the reform of the Serbian security services.

The trial of ten people who harboured and shielded him, which began in 2009 in Belgrade and is still ongoing, showed that Mladic moved from Bosnian Serb territory to the Serbian capital in 1997 with a group of fellow senior officers.

That year, at the request of Slobodan Milosevic, then Yugoslav president, the so-called 30th Personnel Centre was formed. The unit mostly consisted of former members of the Bosnian Serb army, tasked with taking care of Mladic.

Mladic moved freely about Belgrade until April 2002 when the Serbian parliament adopted a law on cooperation with the ICTY.

According to the Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office, Mladic hid in a variety of locations in Belgrade until 2006, when all trace of him was lost.

Mladic was finally arrested in 2011 and is currently on trial in The Hague.

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