Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dubrovnik Admiral Gets Seven Years

Judges cite defendant’s “genuine remorse” and change of plea as mitigating factors when handing down lenient sentence.
By Rachel S.

Former Yugoslav navy admiral Miodrag Jokic was sentenced to seven years in prison on March 18 for his role the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik’s historic old town – an event that shocked the world and made many take notice of the war unfolding in the former Yugoslavia for the first time.


Jokic, who appeared in court wearing a crisp dark suit and who had deep circles under his eyes, showed no visible reaction as the sentence was pronounced.


He was indicted for the Dubrovnik siege in 2001 and initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but in August 2003 he changed his plea and acknowledged his guilt on six counts of war crimes. In exchange, the prosecution dropped the remaining charges and recommended a maximum sentence of ten years. The defence had asked for a fifth of that.


The crimes for which Jokic pleaded guilty were all committed on December 6, 1991, when forces under his command shelled the centre of Dubrovnik. According to the plea agreement, “hundreds, perhaps up to a thousand projectiles” hit the town that day.


As a result of the attack, two civilians were killed, and three were wounded. In addition, the shelling destroyed six buildings and damaged many others. In the sentencing judgment, the tribunal called the old part of the town “an outstanding architectural ensemble illustrating a significant stage in human history”.


Although Jokic did not order the attack, he admitted to knowing that forces under his control were unlawfully shelling the historic centre, and that there were civilians there.


He said he was aware at the time that the area had been designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. In spite of this, Jokic admitted that he did not order a ceasefire or discipline any of the troops responsible for the shelling.


“I was aware of my command responsibility for the acts of my subordinates in combat and for the failings and mistakes in the exercise of command over troops,” he told the court.


Jokic showed remorse for the attack almost immediately. On the day of the shelling, he sent a telegram to a Croatian government official based in Dubrovnik, explaining that he had not ordered the attack and expressing his regret “for the difficult and unfortunate situation”.


The telegram was read over the radio.


At the sentencing judgment, Judge Alphons Orie said the fact that Jokic had “publicly expressed his dissent and regret” for the shelling back in December 1991, before he had been indicted by any court, played a significant part in the court’s decision to hand down a lenient sentence.


Another mitigating factor, the judges said, was that Jokic also helped broker a ceasefire for Dubrovnik, showing remorse toward the victims and their families and, after the war, worked to promote peace in the region. They said they believed his remorse was sincere.


Indeed, at his sentencing hearing in December, Jokic said, “I am ready to bow before all the victims of this conflict, regardless of the side they were on, with the dignity of a soldier.


“I feel the obligation to express my deepest sympathy to the families of those who were killed and wounded and the citizens of Dubrovnik for the pain and all the damage that was caused to them by the unit under my command.”


Prosecutors initially issued a sealed indictment against Jokic in February 2001, accusing him of committing violations over a three-month period in 1991. It was made public eight months later, in October 2001.


Just over a month after that, Jokic surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal – another factor the judges said they had given “due weight in mitigation”.


In February 2002, Jokic was granted provisional release. He reportedly conducted himself well between then and his sentencing hearing, another factor which the judges cited in issuing the seven-year sentence.


Among the other factors they cited were his age – Jokic is 69 years old - the fact that he is married with children, and that he had acted as a very human and professional officer in the Yugoslav navy.


The court also said that his guilty plea helped to establish the truth about what happened in Dubrovnik, which could strengthen the likelihood of reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. Finally, the judges noted that Jokic’s plea – because it avoided a long and costly trial – saved the tribunal time and resources.


The only aggravating circumstance the judges cited was Jokic’s position of authority.


Jokic was one of four originally charged over the shelling of Dubrovnik. The others - also former officers in the Yugoslav army - were Captain Vladimir Kovacevic, Admiral Milan Zec and General Pavle Strugar.


Kovacevic, who suffers from a psychiatric illness, was ruled unfit to enter a plea earlier this month and the case against Zec was withdrawn in June 2002 due to lack of evidence. Only Strugar, who has pled not guilty, is facing trial. Jokic is slated to testify against the defendant later this month.


Rachel S. Taylor is IWPR’s deputy programme editor in The Hague.


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