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Tribunal Confirms Macedonia Sentence and Acquittal

Former police officer to serve sentence while ex-minister’s acquittal upheld.
By Velma Šarić

The appeals chamber of the Hague tribunal last week confirmed former Macedonian police officer Johan Tarculovski’s 12-year jail sentence and the acquittal of ex-Macedonian minister Ljube Boskoski for crimes against ethnic Albanians in 2001.

Tarculovski and Boskoski had been charged with murder, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages and cruel treatment of ethnic Albanians, on the basis of individual and superior criminal responsibility respectively. Tarculoski and the others who committed the crimes were subordinates of Boskoski.

Both the appeal by Tarculovski against his conviction and that of prosecution against the acquittal of Boskoski were dismissed.

The case has been the only one at the tribunal related to Macedonia and the appeal rulings generated great interest, with about 80 people from Macedonia, including officials, journalists and relatives, in the courtroom.

The presiding judge of the appeals chamber, Patrick Robinson, said last week, "The trial chamber found Johan Tarculovski guilty of ordering, planning and instigating murder, wanton destruction and cruel treatment, all violations of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 of the statute. He was sentenced to a single sentence of imprisonment of 12 years. Ljube Boskoski was acquitted on all charges."

Tarculovski was sentenced in 2008 for having “ordered, planned and instigated crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during a police operation conducted on August 12, 2001 in the village of Ljuboten in the northern part of Macedonia”.

The trial chamber found that Macedonian policemen, in a unit commanded by Tarculovski, carried out an attack on Ljuboten in the north of Macedonia during which ethnic Albanian men were killed; more than a dozen houses set alight; and over a hundred ethnic Albanian residents of the village detained and harassed or beaten.

Tarculovski was found guilty of having ordered, planned and instigated the murders of Rami Jusufi, Sulejman Bajrami and Muharem Ramadani, all three ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia.

"The fact that he was ordered to lead the operation does not exonerate him from criminal responsibility if in the execution of the order he in turn instructed other persons to commit a crime," Judge Robinson added, explaining the appeals verdict.

The appeals chamber found that the trial chamber had properly taken into account when assessing the gravity of the offences that he had been carrying out the orders of others senior to him.

Tarculovski had presented seven grounds of appeal.

All seven were dismissed, with the appeals chamber confirming that the operation in Ljuboten was carried out with the aim of indiscriminately attacking ethnic Albanians and their property. It was also confirmed that Tarculovski personally led the police in the attack.

Tarculovski's defence claimed in the appeal that the operation was a case of a state using force in self-defence during an internal armed conflict, which was how it qualified the events in Macedonia in 2001.

However, the court found that the resort to force did not prevent the qualification of any crimes committed during that time as serious violations of international humanitarian law.

During the trial, the court applied the laws or customs of war, regardless of whether Macedonia had acted in legitimate self-defence against terrorists.

The prosecution appealed against the acquittal of Boskoski on a single ground relating to errors in law and fact.

Boskoski was found not guilty of failing to investigate crimes committed by his subordinates and punishing them.

"The prosecution submits that the trial chamber committed an error of law when it incorrectly required under Article 7(3) of the statute that a superior need only provide a report to the competent authorities, which was likely to trigger an investigation into the alleged criminal conduct," Judge Robinson said.

"Based on this finding, the trial chamber held that it was not shown that Mr Boskoski failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures. In the circumstances of this case, it was open to a reasonable trier (finder) of fact to acquit Mr Boskoski of failure to punish responsibility on the basis of the information given to the judicial authorities."

Judge Liu Daqun gave a separate opinion, in which he stressed that a superior must undertake "active steps" in relation to his subordinates, "in ensuring that these subordinates are brought to face justice as necessary".

The possibility for the superior to "do nothing and be freed of responsibility", Liu wrote, "is very worrying."

However, Judge Liu joined the remainder of the appeals chamber in upholding the acquittal.

Tarculovski was arrested and sent to the tribunal’s detention unit in March 2005. Boskoski was transferred from detention in Croatia on unrelated charges. He was brought to The Hague at the same time as Tarculovski.

Tarculovski will remain in the detention unit while arrangements with a state in which he will serve his sentence are being finalised. The time he has spent in detention since 2005 will be taken into account so he could ask for early release in 2013 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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