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Daughter of Convicted JNA Officer Appeals to Judge

Sasa Sljivancanin calls into question the facts upon which judges based their conviction.
By Simon Jennings
The daughter of a former Yugoslav army, JNA, officer whose sentence was more than tripled by appeals judges at the Hague tribunal earlier this month, has written to the appeals judge presiding over the case to question the verdict.

Sasa Sljivancanin has asked Judge Theodor Meron to explain the decision reached by him and his colleagues on May 5 to overturn her father’s acquittal on murder charges by trial judges in September 2007, and convict Veselin Sljivancanin of aiding and abetting the murder of 194 Croat and other non-Serb prisoners of war at a pig farm outside the Croatian town of Vukovar.

At a time when Sljivancanin had almost completed a five-year prison sentence for his conviction for torture handed down at trial, the appeals chamber ruled by a majority of three judges to two that he was responsible for the murder of the prisoners of war and sentenced him to 17 years behind bars.

While trial judges ruled that Sljivancanin could not be held legally responsible for the murder of the prisoners of war because at the time of their killing he was no longer responsible for their security, appeals judges reached a different legal conclusion that, as a JNA officer, he still had the power to act to prevent the killings.

The fact that the new conviction was delivered by the appeals chamber – the highest judicial authority at the ICTY – means that Sljivancanin has no right to appeal that conviction, and Sasa Sljivancanin has asked Judge Meron to explain why her father will not be allowed to do so.

“In Serbia, when a person is convicted or when it is determined on appeal that a trial judge made a mistake and that person should be convicted of an additional crime, that person is entitled to appeal that ruling,” she writes, according to an unofficial English translation of the Serbian text, which was sent out to journalists by Sljivancanin’s lawyer Stephane Bourgon this week.

“Why is my father deprived of this basic right before the [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] ICTY?” she asks in the letter.

In the wake of the judgement, international lawyers have questioned the tribunal’s procedure in view of a leading human rights document – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR – which states that that “everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law”.

One of the judges on the appeals bench hearing Sljivancanin’s case, Judge Fausto Pocar, voted against convicting Sljivancanin of murder for the very reason that he would not have any rightful avenue to appeal that conviction.

“Such findings are now destined to remain unchallenged, in clear violation of Sljivancanin's right to appeal against convictions,” noted the judge, in his dissenting opinion annexed to the May 5 judgement.

“I do not believe that the Appeals Chamber has the power to remedy an error of the Trial Chamber by subsequently entering new or more serious convictions on appeal,” said Judge Pocar, citing article 14 of the ICCPR.

And Sasa Sljivancanin, a lawyer herself, has asked Judge Meron to explain why the conviction was handed down.

“Please, Your Excellency, explain to me why international human rights standards are not applied in The Hague?” she asks in the letter.

In her letter, Sasa Sljivancanin also calls into question the facts upon which the appeals judges based their conviction, as well as the manner in which appeals judges overturned a conviction without citing any new evidence and by drawing conclusions on issues that she said were not explored during the trial.

“You found my father guilty of aiding and abetting murder because you believe that he contributed substantially to the murder of these prisoners, though there was no evidence that he knew of the order [to withdraw their military protection]...he was not present where the murders took place and...he did not have the possibility to prevent these crimes from taking place,” writes Sasa Sljivancanin.

A spokeswoman for the tribunal could not confirm that the letter had been received by Judge Meron or comment on its contents.

However, she emphasised the court’s view that Sljivancanin’s guilt was supported by the facts in the judgement.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing Sljivancanin say they are continuing their review of the appeals judgment in their bid to initiate further proceedings in the case.

Under tribunal rules, a request for a review of the case can be made if new evidence can be presented that was not available during the trial.

“It is expected that a motion requesting a review of the appeals chamber’s judgment will be filed in the coming weeks,” said Sljivancanin’s lawyers in a statement this week.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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