Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Aleksovski Back Behind Bars
Bosnian Croat, Zlatko Aleksovski, originally jailed for two years and six months imprisonment for violations of the laws and customs of war, was ordered back to prison on February 9 "until such a time a revised sentence is pronounced."
Aleksovski was sentenced in May 1999 for his role as an officer at the Kaonik prison camp between January and May 1993 (See Tribunal Update No. 124), but was immediately released because he had already spent two years and eleven months in detention before and during his trial.
The decision came following the rejection of Aleksovski's appeal against his conviction and the acceptance of a prosecution appeal against the length of the original sentence.
Aleksovski, who returned to the court voluntarily to hears his appeal, was visibly stunned by the judges' announcement. "Nobody expected such a decision. My client came here voluntarily", said his defence attorney Srdjan Joka.
Aleksovski's defence counsel had argued the Aleksovski's treatment of the detainees was not sufficiently grave to warrant the conviction and may even have been justified. The defence also claimed the evidence against him did not meet the required standard of proof due to the lack of substantiating medical reports. Finally, the defence contested Aleksovski's position as a man holding a high level of responsibility. The appeal was comprehensively rejected.
As commander of the Kaonik prison facility, Aleksovski was convicted of subjecting inmates to "inhumane treatment, including cruel interrogation, physical and psychological harm, trench digging in hazardous circumstances and use as human shields."
He was found guilty for illegal treatment of the detainees within, though not outside, the prison. The judges did rule, however, that Aleksovski did not play a decisive role in the policy of ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks in the area of central Bosnia.
The prosecution appealed against the term of the sentence. Arguing that Aleksovski "participated knowingly in a broader program of ethnic cleansing", the prosecution submitted that a sentence of no less that seven years would be more appropriate. At the end of the trial, the prosecutor demanded a 10 year prison sentence.
Another controversial issue raised by the prosecution's appeal concerns the nature of the conflict between Croats and Bosniaks and the implications for the applicability of the Geneva Conventions.
A majority of the judges in the Aleksovski trial ruled that the conflict in central Bosnia was not international in character and that Croatia's involvement did not amount to the HVO becoming an agent of Croatia. The Muslim detainees in Kaonik and their Croat guards were nationals of the same country. The victims were not in the hands of a foreign party and the Geneva Conventions did not, therefore, apply.
On the basis of these findings, Aleksovski was found not guilty on two counts of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
The prosecution argued that since the "Croatian authorities exercised overall control over the HVO in the first half of 1993", the conflict was, therefore, international and the detainees, as prisoners of Croatia, were protected by the terms of the Geneva Conventions.
The prosecution pointed to the appeals chamber decision in the Dusko Tadic case (see Tribunal Update 134) issued shortly after the Aleksovski judgement. In the Tadic case the judges ruled that the "overall" control of Bosnian Serb armed forces by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the Prijedor region made that conflict international in character.
Aleksovski's defence rejected the applicability of the "overall control" test, arguing that the conflict between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims was totally different in nature from the conflict between Bosnian Croats and Muslims. The defence pointed out that Zagreb and Sarajevo maintained diplomatic relations throughout the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that there was no conflict between the state of Croatia and the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina or its Muslim community.
The appeal court accepted the prosecution's case calling for a review of the term of sentence. But the court opted to reserve judgement on the issues of the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and Aleksovski's responsibility for prisoners outside the prison.
Presiding judge Richard May announced that a revised sentence and a reasoned judgement on the remaining prosecution appeal grounds would be pronounced "in due course."
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