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STATE COURT HANDS DOWN MORE THAN 400 YEARS FOR WAR CRIMES
Over the past year, Bosnia's State Court sentenced 33 people for war crimes committed in different parts of the country during the 1992-95 war, handing down a total of 436 years in prison.
Four indictees were found not guilty under second-instance verdicts, for crimes in the Kula Penal and Correctional Facility in East Sarajevo and Zvornik.
The state court saw a number of “firsts” over the past year, including the first indictment against a woman, the trial for which is currently ongoing.
The first indictment for false testimony at a war crimes trial in Bosnia was raised this year, as well as the first for the revelation of the identity of a protected witnesses.
In 2011, the greatest number of plea agreements were reached since the opening of the War Crimes Section of the court. The plea deals accepted by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted in verdicts against eight persons and sentences totaling 70 years in prison.
Over the past year, several people were successfully extradited to Bosnia to face war crimes charges.
Edin Dzeko and Rasema Handanovic were handed over to Bosnia's judiciary from the United States, to face charges of war crimes committed in Konjic, and Zemir Kovacevic was transferred from Sweden to Bosnia over allegations of having committed crimes in Sijekovac near Bosanski Brod.
At the request of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an international warrant for Velibor Bogdanovic was issued. Bogdanovic failed to appear at the pronouncement of a first instance verdict which sentenced him to six years in prison for the rape and imprisonment of civilians in Mostar in 1993.
In 2011, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a total of 31 verdicts for war crimes, including nine first-instance verdicts, eleven second-instance verdicts and eight plea agreements.
The longest prison term handed down in 2011 was part of a second-instance decision against Milorad Trbic for genocide committed in Srebrenica. Trbic, Assistant Commander for Security of the Zvornik Brigade of the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), was sentenced to 30 years behind bars.
In January, Trbic was found guilty of participating in the capture, imprisonment and executions of Bosniaks from Srebrenica, as well as for burying and hiding victims' bodies.
The shortest second-instance prison sentence was handed down against Sefik Alic, Assistant Commander for Security in the Battalion “Hamze” with the Fifth Corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who was ordered to spend ten years in jail for crimes committed in Bosanska Krajina in 1995.
In 2011 the Appellate Chamber rendered five decisions which reversed first-instance verdicts and ordered retrials. Four retrials have since been completed. The sentences for some indictees remained the same, while some have been reduced.
Such is the case of four men convicted of crimes committed in Vojno, near Mostar. The second-instance court cut their sentences by a total of 11 years. The court also reduced the sentence for Krsto Savic, convicted of war crimes in Eastern Herzegovina, from 20 to 17 years in prison.
The Appellate Chamber rendered one verdict for crimes committed in Kalinovik, in which the penalty was increased. Ratko Bundalo, wartime Commander of the Tactical Group in Kalinovik, was sentenced to 19 years behind bars under the first-instance verdict, a period that was increased to 22 years under the second-instance decision. The sentence of 15 years in prison for Nedjo Zeljaja, former Commander of the Public Safety Station in Kalinovik, was confirmed.
The Appellate Chamber also ordered a retrial for Djordjislav Askraba, who was indicted along with Bundalo and Zeljaja, which is still ongoing.
Twelve people were sentenced under first-instance verdicts over the past year, and received a total of 128 years in prison for crimes committed in Sarajevo, Mostar, Bugojno Kalinovik, Kotor-Varos, Doboj, Konjic and Srebrenica.
The longest first-instance sentence was rendered to Slavko Peric, former Assistant Commander for Security of the First Battalion of the Zvornik Brigade, who was given 19 years in prison.
Momir Pelemis, former Deputy Commander of the First Battalion of the Zvornik Brigade, was sentenced by the same verdict to 16 years for aiding in the perpetration of genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.
The shortest first-instance sentence in 2011 was issued to Slavko Lalovic, a former member of the Reserve Squad of the Public Security Station in Kalinovik. Lalovic was given five years in prison for applying “measures of intimidation and terror” against civilians detained in the elementary school “Miladin Radojevic” in Kalinovik, where he worked as security.
Eight plea agreements were concluded this year before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The highest sentence was handed down against Miroslav Anic, a former member of the HVO, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes committed in Kiseljak and Vares.
Zdravko Mihaljevic a former member of the HVO, also pleaded guilty for crimes in Kiseljak, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Over the past year, Bosnia's state court accepted plea deals for two former members of the VRS. Novica Tripkovic was sentenced to eight years in prison for crimes committed in Foca, and Pavle Gajic was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes committed in Bihac.
Plea agreements for crimes committed in Srebrenica were reached this year with two former members of the Jahorina Training Centre of the Ministry of Interior of Republika Srpska. Zoran Kusic was sentenced to five years in prison, and Dragan Crnogorac was ordered to spend 13 years behind bars.
Indictee Kusic admitted that on July 14, 1995, acting on the orders of his commander, he killed a captured Bosniak man near the warehouse of the Kravica Farming Cooperative (Bratunac), by shooting him with a machine gun in his back.
“I am sorry that I killed that man. If I could turn back time, I certainly would not act like that. I sincerely regret and apologise to his family for this. Not a single day passes by without thinking about it. I would like to rest my soul,” said Kusic. Compared to others who reached plea deals this year, Kusic received the lowest sentence.
Enes Handzic signed a plea agreement with the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina for crimes committed against Croats from Bugojno. Handzic, former Assistant Commander for Security with the 307th Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ABiH), was sentenced to eight years in prison.
“I have tried to make the situation easier for myself and others. Now the burden of all the events has fallen and I can continue to live as a man with the sanction that will be imposed on me,” said Handzic.
Another former member of the ABiH convicted of crimes committed in Bugojno, Osman Sego, was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal.
The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued 25 indictments for war crimes against 45 people this year.
One of these indictments is against Albina Terzic, who is also the first woman accused of war crimes in Bosnia. As a wartime member of the Military Police of the Croatian Defence Council, Terzic is charged with the inhumane treatment of Serb civilians who were unlawfully detained in the elementary school and Strolit factory in Odzak.
This year, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina filed its first indictment for false testimony at a war crimes trial. According to the indictment against Bosko Lazic, the protected witness gave false testimony and caused grave consequences to indictee Z.Z., who was later acquitted and released from custody.
An indictment was also raised against an editor and journalist of the magazine “Bum” for revealing the identity of a protected witness. After agreeing to a plea deal with the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the two were sentenced to six months on probation.
According to the indictment, editor Krunoslav Malenica and journalist Eset Muracevic twice revealed information about a protected witness who testified at a war crimes trial before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This year, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia’s Office of War Crimes Prosecution were expected to sign a Protocol on Cooperation in the Prosecution of Perpetrators of War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide. However, the protocol was not signed after the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina warned that only they are competent to conclude international agreements.
In December this year Bosnia's High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council again requested that the protocol be signed.
Medzida Kreso was re-elected as the president of the state court in 2011, while Milorad Barasin was suspended from his post as Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Over the past year convicts Momcilo Gruban, Vaso Todorovic, Mitar Rasevic and Dusan Fustar are conditionally released. In 2008, Gruban was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes committed in Omarska, while Vaso Todorovic got six years in prison for crimes committed in Srebrenica.
In 2009, Rasevic was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes committed in Foca and Fustar was sent to jail for nine years for crimes committed in Prijedor.