News 15 Sep 17

Serbian Army Hospitals ‘Obstructing War Crime Trials’

Serbia’s Humanitarian Law Centre accused two hospitals operated by the army of delaying war crime trials by certifying that the defendants cannot attend hearings because of health concerns.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
The Military Medical Academy in Belgrade. Photo: vma.mod.gov.rs

The Humanitarian Law Centre NGO on Thursday accused medical officials at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade and the Army Hospital in Nis of intentionally obstructing trials of Serbs for alleged war crimes.

"The obstruction is the fault of doctors at the army’s medical facilities whose abuses, which constitute a felony, remain unchecked," the HLC said in a statement.

The HLC cited the trial of Serbian Army officers Pavle Gavrilovic and Ranko Kozlina, who are indicted for the killings of 27 people including a four-year-old boy during an attack on the Kosovo village of Trnje in March 1999.

Their hearing, scheduled for September 13, was delayed because Gavrilovic and Kozlina’s lawyers presented doctor’s certificates issued by the Army Hospital and the Military Medical Academy, respectively, to justify their clients’ absence.

"Everything points to an organised obstruction of the process," Marina Kljajic from the HLC told BIRN.

The Military Medical Academy rejected the accusations, saying that it treats all patients in accordance with protocols and good medical practice.

"The mere insinuation is offensive for all MMA employees, who have helped and continue to help tens of thousands of patients regardless of nationality, religion or whether they took part in the war," the Academy told BIRN.

The Army Hospital in Nis did not answer BIRN’s request for comment.

In the case of Gavrilovic, the presiding judge alleged in 2016 that the defendant "stays in a hospital for two or three days ahead of the hearing, and his treatment ends after the hearing is cancelled".

According to the HLC, the situation is the same in Kozlina’s case, but the war crimes prosecutor’s request to place the defendant in custody in 2016 was rejected by the court as "premature".

The HLC said that two men’s trial has been delayed in this way from its outset in 2014, so only nine hearings have held over the past two-and-a-half years.

It also cited the case of former Bosnian Serb general Novak Djukic, accused of ordering a wartime massacre in Tuzla, whose trial was postponed last week on the same grounds.

"Djukic was hospitalised on the sixth so he wouldn’t appear on the eighth, and I believe he was discharged on the ninth," Kljajic said.

The HLC claimed that the cases had seen a "premeditated obstruction on the part of the defense, with cooperation from the army’s medical facilities" and called on the court to remand the accused in custody to ensure their presence at trial.

"That way the victims who regularly monitor the trial would no longer be mocked, and the legal obligation to have a timely trial would be met," the HLC argued.

NOTE: This article was amended on September 18 to include the reply from the Military Medical Academy.

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