Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Adolf's 'Sidekick' Gets 18 Years
Rajko Cesic, a Bosnian Serb accused of multiple murders and cruel sexual assaults on Muslim prisoners at the notorious Luka camp in Brcko, was given an 18-year jail sentence in prison on Thursday.
In October last year, Cesic pleaded guilty to 10 murders and two cases of sexual assault committed at the Luka camp in May 1992.
In exchange for his guilty plea, the prosecutor’s office agreed to ask for a sentence of between 13 to 18 years, rather than the possible life sentence he might otherwise have received.
Although the tribunal judges are not legally bound by the terms proposed in plea agreements, the three-judge panel decided to stay within the bounds of the prosecution’s proposal and opted for the maximum recommended sentence on March 11.
Cesic was accused along with Goran Jelisic, who was also an employee at the Luka camp, and went by the nickname of the "Serb Adolf". In 1999, Jelisic pleaded guilty to a similar indictment – 12 counts of murders and three cases of serious injury to Muslims in the same camp.
Jelisic made his guilty plea before plea agreements had come into widespread use at the tribunal, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison – more than twice as long as his co-accused.
He appealed against the sentence, but the appeals chamber upheld it, and he is currently serving his prison term in Italy.
The Cesic verdict was delivered after months of deliberations among the three judges.
In a long and detailed judgement, Judge Alphons Orie elaborated on the gravity and cruelty of the crimes Cesic had committed, and said the trial chamber had decided to dismiss most of the mitigating circumstances his defence team had presented.
The judgement recounted the cruelties that unfolded during first months of the Bosnian war.
After joining the Bosnian Serb reserve police corps, between May 5 and June 6, 1992, Cesic became a frequent visitor at the Luka camp, where Muslim men from northeast Bosnia were detained. The camp was closed in July 1992, but only after hundreds of people were tortured and killed in it.
Cesic admitted to personally killing 10 inmates. In two separate incidents, eight of his victims were lined up and shot. According to his guilty plea, Cesic beat Bosnian Muslim police officer Mirsad Mujagic to death – first ordering him to shake the hands of his fellow inmates and say goodbye to them. He clubbed another prisoner, Nihad Jasarevic, to death.
Cesic also admitted to holding a gun to two middle-aged Muslim brothers who were former neighbours of his, and forcing them to perform fellatio on each other while the other guards watched. He left the room soon after they began but ordered the guards to make sure the brothers did not stop until he returned. He did not come back for 45 minutes.
During the sentencing hearing last autumn, the defence asked the judges to consider a number of factors as mitigating circumstances when rendering their judgement.
Apart from Cesic’s guilty plea and his cooperation with the tribunal, his lawyers asked judges to take into account his young age – he was 27-years-old when he committed the crimes – and that he was brought up by a divorced, single mother.
They also argued that most of Cesic’s victims did not know they would be killed, and that this lessened the cruelty of their executions.
Finally, they claimed that Cesic helped some of the Luka camp inmates escape and that this proved that he was of “good character”.
In pronouncing judgement, Orie agreed that evidence showed that Cesic saved the lives of several inmates at the Luka camp whom he knew and liked, but dismissed this as mitigating factor.
“These facts demonstrate that he was capable of some benevolence,” said Orie, but he noted that Cesic showed this quality only “on occasion” and that it should therefore not be given “undue weight”. Since Cesic’s behaviour was unpredictable, the judge said, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that he was of “genuine good character”.
The only factors that judges acknowledged as significant when considering their sentence were Cesic’s guilty plea, his cooperation with the prosecution and his expression of remorse, which Orie said appeared to be sincere. In contrast, the judges who sentenced Jelisic in 2001 refused to accept his expression of remorse as genuine.
“Words such as ‘remorse’ are insufficient to express what somebody like me feels,” said Cesic at his sentencing hearing last autumn. “Prison is not the only punishment for me, because it is even harder to go on living with this feeling of guilt.”
Ana Uzelac is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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