News 24 May 16

Serbian Security Officials Face 2017 Hague Retrial

The retrial of former Serbian state security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, who are accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, will start at the Hague Tribunal next year.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Former state aecurity officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic. Photo: BETA/AP

The first witnesses in the retrial of Stanisic and Simatovic will take the stand in the first half of 2017, it was announced at a case status conference at the UN court in The Hague on Monday.

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

The UN court ruled on December 15 that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013.

It ordered the case to retried and all the evidence and witnesses to be reheard in full by new judges.

However, the judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers at the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, MICT, which is taking over the ICTY’s remaining cases as it prepares to close in 2017, couldn’t agree at Monday’s status conference on the actual date of the new trial.

The trial chamber suggested the first witnesses should be heard in February, while the defence argued that it needed more time to prepare so the trial should start in April or May.

The prosecution also demanded more time to prepare than initially planned. The court has yet to decide on the final date.

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.

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 ICTY 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 2013 verdict also said that the prosecutor had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Stanisic or Simatovic planned or ordered the units’ crimes.

However the appeals chamber ruled that the initial verdict was incorrect in insisting that the men could only be guilty if they “specifically directed” the crimes.

This is the first time that the UN court ordered completely new trial after an appeal. It is expected the case will last for at least another four years.

The men were transferred to The Hague in 2003, but the trial was postponed on several occasions, mainly due to the poor health of the defendants.

Both men are in Belgrade until the new trial starts.

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