Some of the victims of war crimes in Croatia have been forced to pay court expenses after their claims for reparation failed.
Marica Seatovic’s story is one of 72 cases where the victims have been asked to pay court expenses.
Her husband Mihajlo spent his life as a waiter in Novska, a small town in central Croatia. On the evening of November 21, 1991, when Novska was at the frontline of the war in Croatia, Seatovic was sitting alone in his home.
Suddenly, at about 10pm, several soldiers invaded his home and took him to a nearby house, where his neighbours Ljuban Vujic and Miso and Sajka Raskovic were already being held captive.
A brutal crime was then committed. According to the indictment filed by the then Croatian military prosecutor against two Croatian army soldiers, Mihajlo Seatovic was killed with six shots. Miso Raskovic and Ljuban Vujic were also slain. The naked corpse of Raskovic's wife Sajka was found lying in bed on the first floor.
The perpetrators were arrested and an indictment was filed. But in November 1992, the Zagreb military court released them under the terms of the Croatian amnesty law.
"There are reasonable indications that the indicted committed the crime, but there is no doubt that it was perpetrated in connection with the war imposed by the occupying army, so the amnesty law should be applied", the court explained in its verdict.
The prosecutor did not appeal, so the verdict became final and the perpetrators went free.
For years, the relatives of those killed did not know what really happened to their loved ones.
"Everybody kept silent in Novska, pretending nothing had happened", Mihajlo Seatovic's wife Marica explained fifteen years after the crime.
Failed compensation request
It was in 2006 that she found out how her husband and her neigbours were killed, and who allegedly did it, after she had unofficially obtained copies of the indictment and of the military court verdict.
In 2004, Marica Seatovic requested financial compensation from a municipal court in Novska. Two years later, the court refused the claim, ordering that Marica Seatovic pay 8,000 kuna (about 1,100 euro) in court expenses.
Mrs Seatovic is retired, and spent several months paying off the court expenses from her monthly pension of 2,200 kuna (300 euro).
The Croatian Supreme Court annulled the judgment, so the compensation process started all over again, but again without success for Marica Seatovic.
The Municipal court in Novska repeated its verdict, claiming that Seatovic's compensation claim fell under the statute of limitations.
So Marica Seatovic, still living next door to the place where her husband was killed, is now obliged to pay court expenses for a second time.
There are 72 similar cases in Croatia, according to Documenta, a human rights NGO from Zagreb.
Pensioners the most affected
Most of the 108 compensation requests filed at Croatian courts because of killed close relatives were refused, and in 72 cases the courts forced the victims to pay court expenses.
Most of the cases were refused because the perpetrators had not been found and punished, which meant that the crimes had not been proven in court.
The government and even the Croatian Constitutional Court have made several attempts to stop the practice of forcing victims to pay court expenses, but the practice continues.
In March last year, the municipal court in Sisak obliged a woman whose husband was killed in October 1991 to pay 27,000 kuna (about 4,000 euro) court expenses, after her compensation request was refused by the court.
"Most of the people who are obliged to pay are retired with very low pensions. So they are threatened with the repossession of their homes", warned the Documenta director Vesna Terselic.
Documenta has asked the government to write off the court expenses which the families of killed Croatian citizens, mostly Serbs, have been ordered to pay.
The total sum of those expenses, according to Documenta, is about two million kuna (300 thousand euro). Comparing that sum to the defence costs of Croatian generals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, Documenta emphasised that the defence of just one of those generals, Tihomir Blaskic, amounted to about 150 million kuna (20 million euro).
"The state is callous towards the war crimes victims", claims Zoran Pusic, president of the Citizen Committee for Human Rights.
"If the state pays the defence of those indicted by the ICTY, it is legitimate to ask if it supports war crimes" he said. "On the other hand, we see no political will to compensate the victims", Pusic added.
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