Documenta publishes a report on the monitoring of war crime trials in Croatia
Within the framework of the project „Monitoring of War Crime Trials in the Processes of Dealing With the Past“ in the period between April 2004 and 31 December 2009, Documenta monitored a total of 68 cases at county courts in the Republic of Croatia which represents about 77.2 % of all cases that were conducted during that period or are still ongoing.
Thursday, 11 March 2010, by HRH Sarajevo / Lejla Mazlic
In relation to war crime trials, Documenta describes the year in which Croatia was preparing to open the chapter on the judiciary (Chapter 23) in the accession negotiations for joining the European Union as yet another year of "housecleaning". What they mean by that is rectifying mistakes made in the work of the judiciary during the 90’s when a large number of persons were sentenced in absentia in numerous unprofessionally and ethnically biased proceedings.
Likewise, criminal proceedings and ongoing trials are reviewed and updated to clean them up from legally ill-founded indictments. The State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the DORH) is completing its database on war crimes. Exchanges of evidence, documents and data between the prosecution offices of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro have in the past several years led to investigations, instigations of indictments and adjudications. The system of support for witnesses and victims is being developed.
However, the aforementioned efforts are slowly taking place and, according to Documenta, as a whole they are insufficient, which we find to be irresponsible towards victims of war crimes as well as towards the defendants in proceedings in which the indictments are legally ill-founded and/or insufficiently substantiated with evidence. All of the aforementioned does not stimulate social catharsis.
Likewise, one cannot see a strategy pursuant to which the investigation and processing of a large number of un-investigated war crimes (about 400) and defendants without a verdict (about 670) would be a constant priority.
On the contrary, as the establishment of USKOK courts clearly reveals priorities, the non-stipulation of exclusive jurisdiction to county courts in Osijek, Rijeka, Split and Zagreb to try war crimes indicates that there is no political will and strategy for efficient processing of war crimes. Attempts by numerous victims’ families (we are familiar with 50 cases) to receive compensation of damage for the killing of their family members by filing private lawsuits failed, which only exposed them to additional traumas and large court expenses which the state, in some cases, collects even forcefully.
“We expect that the announced amendments of the provisions of the Constitution which regulate the institutes of (non)extradition of state’s own citizens will be adopted in order to prevent any further avoidance of criminal prosecution and/or serving criminal sanctions by escapes of defendants/convicts – dual citizens of the Republic of Croatia and of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from one country to another. We are of the opinion that the Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina on mutual execution of court decisions in criminal matters should also be interpreted and applied in respect of war crimes”, stated Documenta in its report.
At the end of its report, Documenta particularly draws attention to the lack of political responsibility towards families of victims of un-investigated crimes who attempted to collect compensation for the loss of their close persons by initiating indemnity claims against the Republic of Croatia. This institutional insensitivity towards their need to have their suffering acknowledged is evident in obliging them to pay court expenses and in exerting pressure upon them to withdraw their claims if they want to (after losing the case) avoid paying court expenses.
“We find it necessary to resolve the issue of paying court expenses in lawsuits for compensation of damage caused by the killing of a close person in its entirety. Furthermore, although political will was lacking so far, we expect that the executive, legislative and judicial authorities will address the issue of indemnifying all victims seriously and responsibly”, it is stated by Documenta.
HRH Sarajevo / Lejla Mazlic
Based on information provided by Documenta