Brdjanin Sentence Reduced on Appeal

A former Bosnian Serb official’s sentence decreased by two years after judges allowed two grounds of his appeal.

Brdjanin Sentence Reduced on Appeal

A former Bosnian Serb official’s sentence decreased by two years after judges allowed two grounds of his appeal.

Hague appeal court judges last week made a small reduction in Radoslav Brdjanin’s 32-year sentence for crimes associated with a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in northwest Bosnia, but dismissed the majority of his appeal.

The judges knocked two years off Brdjanin’s sentence, but said they had summarily dismissed dozens of errors in law that he alleged were made by the trial judges.

Brdjanin was found guilty in September 2004 of crimes including persecutions, torture, deportations and forcible transfer committed against non-Serbs in Bosnia, and particularly in the Autonomous Republic of Krajina, ARK, in 1992. He was also convicted of wanton destruction of cities, private property and religious institutions in this area.

The former engineer was the president of the Krajina crisis staff – a body set up to oversee the transformation of the area into Serb-dominated territory. Acting in the framework of the so-called Strategic Plan, the crisis staff worked to create a separate Bosnian Serb state from which most non-Serbs would be removed.

The trial judges ruled that Brdjanin oversaw the creation of notorious detention camps where inmates were tortured and raped; mass deportations; and at least 1,669 recorded murders of non-Serbs. Mosques and homes were also destroyed on his watch, said the judges.

However, he was found not guilty of the most serious charges of genocide and complicity to commit genocide.

Both Brdjanin and the prosecution appealed, with both sides making their arguments at hearings last December.

Though the judges dismissed the majority of Brdjanin’s challenges, they did allow two grounds of his appeal.

Brdjanin had argued the trial judges had erred in finding he had aided and abetted torture in the camps and detention facilities and that his failure to intervene, together with his public attitude, had the effect of encouraging personnel in the camps to commit torture.

The appeal judges disagreed, saying, “The trial chamber reached this conclusion without any evidence that such personnel were even aware of Brdjanin’s public attitude towards the camps and facilities.”

The judges also acquitted Brdjanin of the wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity, in the municipality of Bosanska Krupa.

Brdjanin’s other challenges – including assertions that “severe pain and suffering” does not constitute torture and that certain acts of torture including rape and sexual assault were individual domestic crimes rather than ones committed in the context of an armed conflict or part of a widespread and systematic attack – were all dismissed.

The judges affirmed the trial chamber’s conclusion about the nature of the Strategic Plan to create a Serbian entity from which non-Serbs would be removed; the authority the ARK crisis staff had over municipal authorities; the relationship between ARK and the Bosnian Serb army, the police and paramilitaries; and the contribution of the crisis staff to the dismissal, disarmament and resettlement of the non-Serb population.

The appeals judges also agreed with the trial chamber that Brdjanin knew about the Strategic Plan and made contributions to it and that he knew that crimes were being committed to further the plan.

Two prosecution appeals on questions of law relating to Brdjanin’s participation in a joint criminal enterprise were granted. Two other grounds of appeal were dismissed.

Though the appeals chamber agreed to reduce Brdjanin’s sentence, the judges said given the gravity of the crimes for which his convictions were upheld, that reduction could only be limited.

Brdjanin, now 59, was arrested and transferred to the tribunal in July 1999, meaning he has served nearly eight years in prison already – time which will be credited to his sentence. Typically those convicted by the court serve around two thirds of their jail time.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Support our journalists