Serbian Ex-Police Chief's Sentence Cut On Appeal

Judges reverse a number of former deputy interior minister’s convictions relating to Kosovo conflict.

Serbian Ex-Police Chief's Sentence Cut On Appeal

Judges reverse a number of former deputy interior minister’s convictions relating to Kosovo conflict.

Serbian former police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Serbian former police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Friday, 31 January, 2014

Serbian former police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic saw his prison sentence reduced from 27 to 18 years on appeal at the Hague tribunal this week.

As deputy interior minister and chief of public security during the late 1990s Kosovo conflict, Djordjevic was in command of Serbia’s police force.

In February 2011, judges in The Hague found him responsible for the murder of 724 ethnic Albanian civilians and for the deportation and forcible transfer of at least 200,000 people in 1999. He was also convicted of persecution for acts of deportation, forcible transfer, and destruction of culturally or religiously significant property. (See Djordjevic Handed 27-Year Sentence.)

At his appeal hearing last May, Djordjevic offered profuse apologies to the families of those killed by Serbian forces during the conflict.

“I’m deeply sorry for all victims in Kosovo and the suffering of their families. I apologise unreservedly to the families of all Kosovo Albanians who lost their lives and to those who were displaced. I truly sympathise with their pain, and I hope the future of the region will be one of peace,” Djordjevic told the appeals bench. (Serbian Police Commander Apologises for Kosovo Killings.)

On January 27, judges dismissed nearly all of the 19 grounds for appeal raised by Djordjevic’s defence team. However, they reversed his convictions for deportation – along with persecutions through deportation – with respect to “displacements of individuals to Montenegro” from Pec (Peje) on March 27-28 1999 and Kosovska Mitrovica (Mitrovice) on April 4 1999.

Djordjevic had argued that people who were displaced from Kosovo to Montenegro were not in fact deported, legally speaking, since both were part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The appeals bench found that “the trial chamber correctly observed that the crime of deportation can be established by displacement across a de facto border” but “failed to articulate the basis… upon which a de facto border could be established in this instance”.

Djordjevic further contended that the trial chamber had convicted him of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecutions “with respect to several incidents that were not alleged in the indictment”.

The appeals bench agreed, and concluded that the trial chamber “erred in finding Djordjevic responsible for the crime of deportation in relation to two incidents; the crime of inhumane acts (forcible transfer) in relation to two incidents; and the crime of murder in relation to the killing of 11 individuals at two locations, and the crime of persecutions in relation to all these incidents”.

Those convictions were therefore reversed.

Djordjevic claimed during his appeal that the trial chamber erred by convicting him twice of the same crimes – once based on his participation in a joint criminal enterprise (JCE) and again for aiding and abetting. The defence argued that Djordjevic was “remote” from activities taking place on the ground and was not proven to have “specifically directed” the commission of crimes.

The controversial “specific direction” standard was first applied in this way by appeals judges in the case against former Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic, whose conviction was completely overturned. Last week, another appeal bench rejected the standard set in the Perisic case. (See On Appeal, Kosovo Convictions Largely Upheld.)

The appeals chamber this week found that “the criminal conduct of Mr Djordjevic is fully reflected in a conviction based solely on his participation in a JCE”. They therefore declared his arguments regarding aiding and abetting and specific direction “moot”.

The judges, however, agreed with prosecution appeal arguments and found that the original trial chamber had erred by failing to establish that three Kosovo Albanian women were sexual assaulted. In addition, the appeals bench found that contrary to trial chamber findings, sexual assaults on these three and another two Albanian women were carried out with discriminatory intent and amounted to persecution.

“The appeals chamber, Judge Tuzmukhamedov dissenting, finds that it was foreseeable to Mr Djordjevic that persecutions through sexual assaults might be committed, and he willingly took that risk when he participated in the JCE. It therefore finds Mr Djordjevic responsible for the crimes of persecutions under the third category of JCE,” said presiding Judge Carmel Agius.

In terms of sentencing, the appeals chamber found that a “reduction” from 27 to 18 years was “appropriate”.

“In particular, the appeals chamber considers that the convictions entered by the trial chamber which have now been overturned on appeal outweigh the new convictions entered by the appeals chamber – not only in terms of number of victims but also by way of Djordjevic’s level of responsibility,” Judge Agius said. “By this, however, the appeals chamber by no means intends to suggest that the crimes for which Djordjevic has been convicted on appeal are not grave.”

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

Balkans, Serbia, Kosovo
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