NEWS 18 May 17

Serbia Failing to Prosecute War Crimes, HLC Says

New report by leading NGO says if Serbia maintains its current slow pace in prosecuting war crimes, less than 10 per cent of alleged culprits will face due process in the next 10 years.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Belgrade Special Court. Photo: BIRN

Trials for war crimes in Serbia in 2016 were hampered by lack of political will to face the past, glorification of war criminals and inefficiency on the part of the prosecution, a new report from the Humanitarian Law Centre presented on Thursday said.

"There is a glorification of war criminals currently going on in Serbia," Milica Kostic from HLC said at the presentation of the report in Belgrade.

She said that those convicted of war crimes also receive preferential treatment in prison, which "shows the state’s attitude towards war criminals".

"Serbia is, and has for long been, a safe country for war criminals," journalist Rade Radovanovic added at the same event.

The report claims the action and inaction of Serbian officials shows they do not consider war crimes an important issue. At the same time, it says they have worked to create a social climate in which it is almost impossible to process the culprits, especially middle and high-ranking officers, it adds.

It notes that a former Yugoslav People’s Army Colonel, Veselin Sljivancanin, despite a conviction for his high-profile role in the massacre in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, has attended events organised by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

Meanwhile, a judge formerly based in Kosovo, Danica Marinkovic, known for disputing the findings of the Hague Tribunal on the Serb massacre of Kosovo Albanians in the Kosovo village of Racak, was elected by the Progressives to the Board of the country's Anti-Corruption Agency.

Convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik was allowed to promote his book and give a revisionist account of the 1992-5 war in Bosnia at the Belgrade Youth Centre in April 2016, the report added.

Another Serbian politician, Nikola Sainovic, despite a conviction for committing crimes against Kosovo Albanian civilians, became a member of the Main Board of his old Socialist Party after completing his prison sentence.

The report also shows that war crime trials in 2016 mostly dragged on because court sessions were few and far between. Last year, the courts were in session for a total of only 56 days.

The most prominent example of unreasonably long processes, according to the report, is the trial for the murder of 193 prisoners-of-war at Ovcara farm in 1991, following the fall of Vukovar in Croatia.

It also says a change made last year to how witnesses’ travel expenses are remunerated is making it harder for them to show up before court.

Courts used to pay the witnesses’ travel expenses in cash on delivery of their testimony, but since 2016 the payments have been conducted exclusively through bank accounts.

The report notes that these expenses can be great, especially for witnesses coming from abroad or from smaller towns, forcing them to borrow money to be able to come.

Elderly witnesses are also often in poor health, while some are illiterate, making the procedure of opening a bank account a serious burden, the report claimed. Most persons who come to testify in the war crimes trials found this procedure unsettling, it added.

Finally, the report takes note of the prosecutors’ inactivity. It says that in 2016 only seven indictments were issued, each with one defendent and mostly with only one victim per case.

No indictment for war crimes in Kosovo has been issued for three years. The prosecutor’s office claims it is unable to work in Kosovo due to local prosecutors' refusal to cooperate.

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