News 15 Dec 15

Serbian Security Chiefs’ War Crimes Acquittal Quashed

The Hague Tribunal overturned the acquittal of former Serbian security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, ordering them to be retried for controlling the most notorious combat units in the Balkan wars.

Marija Ristic
Franko Simatovic and Jovica Stanisic.Photo: ICTY

The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ruled on Tuesday that there were serious legal and factual errors when the UN court acquitted Stanisic and Simatovic of war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2013.

It ordered the case to be sent for a retrial, with all the evidence and witnesses to be reheard in full by new judges. The two men have been remanded in custody.

“The appeals chamber couldn’t decide properly about the responsibility of Stanisic and Simatovic [for the crimes] as it didn’t hear the witnesses,” judge Fausto Pocar said, explaining why a retrial was necessary.

Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, and Simatovic, a former Serbian State Security Service official, are accused of being part of a joint criminal enterprise aimed at forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1995.

According to the indictment, they were the key men in charge of secret armed units which were not legally authorised by the Serbian authorities to undertake special military operations.

Read more:

The Dark History of Serbia’s Security Services

Stanisic and Simatovic, Belgrade’s Security Strongmen

Arkan’s Paramilitaries: Tigers Who Escaped Justice

Serbia’s Kosovo Cover-Up: Who Hid the Bodies?

Serbian Security Chiefs Acquitted of War Crimes


During their existence from 1991 until 2003, these units had various names – the Knindze (‘Ninjas’ from the town of Knin), the Scorpions, Arkan’s Tigers, the Red Berets and the Special Operations Unit – and were known for their brutal fighting methods.

The Hague Tribunal judges ruled in 2013 that the units committed the crimes that were listed in the indictment, but said that Stanisic and Simatovic could not be held criminally responsible for them.

“In the instances when the two accused rendered assistance to the special units, this assistance was not specifically directed towards the commission of crimes,” the verdict said.

The judges also said that the prosecutor had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Stanisic or Simatovic planned or ordered the units’ crimes.

They further ruled that the two defendants were not part of the joint criminal enterprise alongside former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, Croatian Serb commander Milan Martic, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb ex-president Biljana Plavsic.

Stanisic and Simatovic, who were seen as Milosevic’s ‘men on the ground’ during the conflicts, both pleaded not guilty in the original trial.

Since 2013, they have both lived in Belgrade.

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