On Wednesday, the ex-commander and four guards at the wartime Croatian military prison of Kerestinec were given jail terms for war crimes against Serb civilians and prisoners of war that fall far below the legal minimum.
Sentencing for Kerestinec crimes at Zagreb's County Court
Photo by Beta
Stjepan Klaric, the former commander of Kerestinec, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The former guard Viktor Ivancin was sentenced to two years, while Drazen Pavlovic, Zeljko Zivec and Goran Strukelj to one year in prison.
Klaric, Pavlovic and Ivancin were released from custody. Zivec and Strukelj were already at liberty, having been released earlier in the legal process.
The five men were charged with the physical and psychological torture of 34 detainees, and the sexual abuse of male and female prisoners from December 1991 until May 25, 1992.
In Croatian law, the minimum sentence for war crimes is five years in prison.
But Marijan Garac, the presiding judge at the trial, explained that “there were many mitigating circumstances“ in favour of the guilty, such as their good behaviour in court, their war service on behalf of Croatia, and their current poor social status.
Both the prosecution and the defence teams have announced that they will appeal against the sentences.
Some eighty witnesses testified during the trial, the majority of them victims of the regime at Kerestinec prison.
The testimony of the witnesses portrayed some of the most sadistic torture perpetrated during the war in Croatia. Much of the abuse took place in the ‘Black room’ at Kerestinec, a room dedicated to torture and equipped with a range of torture devices.
The sexual abuse and rape of female and male prisoners was a regular part of the torture at the prison. One pregnant woman was tortured so badly at Kerestinec that she lost her baby.
The trial chamber accepted the prosecution's description of the torture, sexual abuse and other war crimes perpetrated against both female and male prisoners in the prison. It also accepted the description of the indictees' role in the regime of torture and abuse at the prison.
The trial for war crimes at Kerestinec started on March 27 this year. The indictment was filed November last year, while the indictees were arrested on 22nd October 2010.
There has been no public reaction in Croatia as yet to the short sentences, bar a sardonic comment by Zoran Sprajc, the news anchor for the Croatian television network, HRT, on reading about the sentences.
“We congratulate the Croatian judiciary“, said Sprajc.