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

Kovacevic appeal, Simic transfer, Zvornik trial, Kadijevic warrant and Bralo appeal.

By IWPR staff
The appeals chamber this week dismissed efforts by former Yugoslav Army, JNA, officer Vladimir Kovačević to overturn the court’s decision last November to refer his case to the Serbian authorities. This is the first case referred to Serbia in accordance with the tribunal’s completion strategy.



Kovacevic is charged with the 1991 attacks on the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, which left a number of civilians dead and wounded, while numerous buildings in the city’s historic Old Town were seriously damaged.



According to the appeal chamber’s decision, the court will have 30 days to transfer the accused to Serbia. The prosecution has to hand over the material supporting the indictment and all other evidence to the Serbian authorities.



Kovačević was provisionally released to Serbia in June 2004. In April 2006, the tribunal found him unfit to enter a plea or stand trial, due to his mental health problems. The tribunal concluded that mechanisms exist in Serbia for the ongoing monitoring of Kovačević's health and resumption of proceedings against him should he become fit to stand trial.



The Hague tribunal has to date transferred nine accused to Bosnia for trial and referred one case involving two accused to Croatia.



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Blagoje Simić, a former Bosnian Serb politician in the Bosanski Šamac municipality, was transferred this week to the United Kingdom to serve his sentence of 15 years' imprisonment.



On October 17, 2003 Simić was convicted and sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment by the trial chamber for persecutions of non-Serb civilians in the municipality of Bosanski Šamac in 1992 and 1993.



The non-Serb civilians were detained and confined under inhumane conditions, lacking sufficient space, food or water and were subjected to torture including sexual assaults, the extraction of teeth and the threat of execution.



In a judgment announced on November 28, 2006, the tribunal's appeals chamber found that Simić was not informed that he was being accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise until the prosecution had finished presenting its case, which rendered the trial unfair. It also reversed Simić's conviction for persecution due to cruel and inhumane treatment in the form of torture and beating.



However, the appeals chamber upheld Simić's conviction for aiding and abetting persecution in the form of the unlawful arrests and detention of non-Serb civilians, confinement of non-Serb prisoners in inhumane conditions, forced labour by Bosnian Croats and Muslims, and forced displacement of non-Serb civilians.



The appeals chamber found that the re-characterisation of the Simić's criminal conduct and quashing of his conviction for acts of torture and beating required an adjustment of his sentence, reducing it to 15 years' imprisonment.



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A trial of six men accused of war crimes in the Zvornik municipality of Bosnia in 1992 continued this week before Belgrade's District Court for War Crimes.



The six defendants, including former president of Zvornik's temporary administration Branko Grujic, former Territorial Defense commander Branko Popovic, and four members of a paramilitary unit known as the "Yellow Wasps" have been charged with murder, torture and forcible movement of Zvornik Muslims in the period between May and June 1992.



Grujic and Popovic, accused of having expelled more than 1200 Muslims from the villages of Kozluk and Skocic on June 26, 1992, pleaded not guilty at the beginning of the trial in November 2005.



The accused members of the Yellow Wasps also denied having committed the crimes.



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Croatian authorities have issued an Interpol warrant for the arrest of former Yugoslav defence minister, general Veljko Kadijevic, who was reported to be living in the United States.



Kadijevic is charged by Croatian courts of involvement in crimes in Vukovar, Bjelovar and Osijek in 1991.



The issuing of a warrant for Kadijevic's arrest - which is binding for all 186 Interpol members - was requested in mid-March by the Vukovar County Court, where Kadijevic was indicted back in 1992 for war crimes committed in the area of this eastern Croatian town.



The Belgrade media reported recently that Kadijevic had become a military adviser for the international coalition in Iraq.



In his interview with one Croatian online publication, Kadijevic apparently said that he did not fear criminal proceedings as he had immunity as an advisor to the military coalition for Iraq. He said he did not care for the arrest warrant issued by Croatia and that he slept peacefully.



He added that in the 1990s he had only tried to save a country which many, including Croatia’s current president Stjepan Mesic, had been destroying.



Croatia has so far issued three indictments against Kadijevic, but he has not been indicted by the Hague tribunal.



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An appeals judgment on the sentence handed down to a Bosnian Croat convicted of war crimes against Bosnian Muslim civilians - including children - will be announced on April 2.



Miroslav Bralo, who served with an HVO military police battalion known as the Jokers, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in December 2005, after pleading guilty to crimes -including murder, rape, torture, unlawful confinement and inhumane treatment - committed against civilians in central Bosnia between January and mid-July 1993.



His defence team appealed the length of his sentence on January 5, 2006, arguing that the trial chamber failed to consider mitigating circumstances.



Bralo submitted a statement to the trial chamber on October 7, 2005, in which he acknowledged his crimes, and apologised “to all those who had to experience pain and suffering due to war and inhumane behavior in Ahmici".



In its judgment, the trial chamber acknowledged the mitigating circumstances of his voluntary surrender, guilty plea, remorse and efforts to atone for his crimes when determining his sentence.



But judges said that Bralo had committed “appalling crimes” - the gravity of which was aggravated by manner in which he committed them, the number and age of the victims, as well as the “degree of humiliation and degradation” of one particular witness, who was subjected to repeated rape and torture.