News 05 Oct 17

Serbian Responsibility for Missing Croatian Civilians Contested

Defence lawyers for former Serbian security chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic denied a Zagreb official’s claim that all the people who went missing during the Croatian war were civilians.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Former Serbian state security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic. Photo: MICT.

Lawyers for Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Thursday contested the findings presented by prosecution expert witness Visnja Bilic and argued that some of those who went missing during the Croatian war were actually soldiers, not civilians.

Bilic, who deals with missing persons issues at the Croaian war veterans ministry, testified on Wednesday that most of the 929 people who are still missing from the war in Croatia disappeared in 1991 as a result of Serb attacks.

Simatovic’s defence lawyer Vladimir Petrovic presented the witness with examples of three men listed in her report who went missing from the village of Dalj in the Eastern Slavonia area in the summer of 1991, and who she categorised as civilians.

Petrovic quoted a registry of Croatian war veterans made by the defence ministry in Zagreb, saying that the men also had the status of fighters.

Bilic confirmed that the defence ministry document “implied” that the men were “Croatian war veterans from the Homeland War”.

However, she argued that “this does not exclude the possibility that they were civilians at the moment of disappearance”.

Dalj is one of the locations in Croatia where, according to the charges, forces controlled by the Serbian State Security Service, whose leaders were Stanisic and Simatovic, committed crimes against Croat and ethnic Hungarian civilians.

Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, and his assistant Simatovic are charged with the persecution, murder, deportation and forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the charges, they were part of a joint criminal enterprise led by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, aimed at forcibly and permanently removing Croats and Bosniaks from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to achieve Serb domination.

Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.

The appeals chamber ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.

The retrial continues on October 17.

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