News 31 Jan 18

Croatian Court Rejects War Criminal Mercep’s Appeal

Croatia’s Constitutional Court rejected an appeal from Tomislav Mercep, a former interior ministry official and alleged head of a police unit that killed Serb civilians, against his war crimes convictions.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Tomislav Mercep in court. Photo: Beta.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected the plea from Tomislav Mercep, a former interior ministry assistant and unofficial commander of a reservist police battalion nicknamed the ‘Mercepovci’ (‘Mercep’s Men’), Croatian news agency HINA reported .

Mercep had demanded that war crimes verdicts issued by the Zagreb county court and the Supreme Court in 2016 and 2017 respectively be quashed, and asked for his case to be reheard from the beginning at Zagreb county court.

He claimed that his right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence were breached during his trial, and that he had suffered bad conditions in the prison hospital.

He also insisted that it was established that he was not appointed to any commander’s position within the Interior Ministry and therefore could not have been considered to have had command responsibility over troops who committed the crimes.

However, the Constitutional Court rejected his claims, explaining that it was not a regular court to examine the particulars of the case.

“It [constitutional complaint] is a specifically constitutional legal instrument for the protection of constitutional rights in individual cases. It is therefore not sufficient to invoke a constitutional complaint about injuries resulting from alleged unlawful acts committed by a relevant authority or a court in a judicial proceeding,” the court said in its ruling.

In February 2017, the Supreme Court sentenced Mercep to seven years in prison, increasing his sentence from the five-and-a-half years Zagreb county court gave him in May 2016.

Mercep was convicted of not preventing the Mercepovci from detaining, torturing and killing several dozen mainly Serb civilians at the Zagreb Trade Fair, Kutina in central Croatia and Pakracka Poljana in western Slavonia in late 1991.

A total of 46 civilians were killed by the Mercepovci, three went missing and have not been found, and six were tortured but survived.

The presiding judge at Zagreb county court, Zdravko Majerovic, said in 2016 that Mercep did not stop the unit from committing the crimes, “giving them silent approval for the misdeeds”, even when he was not physically present at the crime scenes.

The victims included a Serb family, 12-year-old Aleksandra Zec and her two parents, who were killed by the unit in Zagreb in December 1991.

Although members of Mercep’s unit were arrested soon after the killings, in 1992, they were released later due to procedural issues, although they admitted the crimes.

The unit’s crimes have been known to the public for over two decades.

Anti-establishment weekly newspaper Feral Tribune first reported on the crimes in Pakracka Poljana in 1997, when one of the alleged executors, unit member Miro Bajramovic, spoke about the torture and killings he took part in.

The crimes committed at the Zagreb Trade Fair, as well as those in Pakracka Poljana, were described in Pavilion 22, a documentary made by director Nenad Puhovski in 2002.

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