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

Krnojelac Appeal Backfires

Judges tell ex-prison chief that he was not just an accessory to crimes, but a participant.
By Chris Stephen

One of the most bizarre war crimes cases in The Hague ended this week, when former detention camp commander Milorad Krnojelac's final appeal against his sentence resulted in it being doubled.


Krnojelac was jailed in 2002 for seven and a half years for crimes including murder, the beating, torture and grim conditions of his camp.


This week he hoped to cut the sentence - but instead judges said his responsibility was worse than previously thought. At the September 18 hearing, they increased his sentence to 15 years.


Krnojelac's story began in spring 1992 when Serb forces rampaged through the little eastern Bosnian town of Foca - thousands of Muslims were rounded-up from surrounding villages.


Serb commanders herded men, women and children into Foca's jail, Kazneno-Popravni Dom - nicknamed KP Dom.


Krnojelac, then 58, a local maths teacher, stepped forward to take command.


Left in charge of KP Dom, Knojelac presided over a mass of crimes against defenceless, terrified prisoners.


Besides the killings and beatings, he took pleasure in seeing prisoners freeze in unheated rooms, go without food and live amid grim sanitary conditions. Most of the crimes were carried out by other Serbs, with Krnojelac's consent.


The prisoners' nightmare ended in August 1993 when the camp was closed under international pressure.


Krnojelac dropped out of sight, until June 15, 1998 when he made history, becoming the first war crimes suspect ever arrested by French troops in Bosnia.


Six months before, the former chief prosecutor Louise Arbour complained that France refused to follow American, British and Dutch armies in arresting suspects.


Arbour subsequently gave the French a sealed, or secret, indictment against Krnojelac and troops seized him from the Foca school where he been made headmaster.


His 76-day trial saw him accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.


During the proceedings, the accused's family came to his defence.


"I have known him for 40 years and I know that he is not capable of doing what he is accused of," said his wife Slavica.


And Krnojelac's son, Arsenje, said his father had been forced into being prison boss,"It was difficult for my father to watch those people being brought into detention without being able to do anything to help them."


Rubbish, said the prosecution. And the judges seemed to agree. Judge David Hunt said Krnojelac "chose to bury his head in the sand" while horrors took place around him.


The only redeeming feature was that Krnojelac did not himself carry out most of the crimes - he simply sat back and let others do them.


Judges also acquitted him of charges of murder and enslavement, saying Krnojelac's crimes were limited to aiding others to commit abuses rather than doing them himself.


But this week appeals judges said the original trial had been too lenient. They ruled Krnojelac was not just an accessory to the crimes, but a participant.


The appeal court ruled that both his criminal responsibility and his culpability should be expanded.


Krnojelac spent the short hearing looking pale and glum.


This was the final appeal: Krnojelac has already been in Hague detention for five years. He now has to serve ten more at a UN member state yet to be named.


Chris Stephen is IWPR project manager in The Hague.


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