Indictments and trials for past human rights abuses on the Serbian and Montenegrin territory (January 2003-February 2005) [SCG43354.E]

According to Amnesty International (AI), in May 2003 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) made the first-ever transfer of a case concerning a massacre that took place in Croatia from its jurisdiction to that of Serbian courts, while retaining jurisdiction over the three main accused (AI 2004). Later in June 2003, both Serbia and Croatia agreed to try their own nationals for war crimes (ibid.). "In July 2003, Serbia approved legislation authorizing a special war crimes prosecutor, and in October opened a special war crimes court" (ibid.). The UN war crimes prosecutor transferred an un identified "important case" to the Serbian courts in the fall of 2004 (Reuters 1 Oct. 2004).

Although it recognizes the establishment of a war crimes chamber in Serbia and Montenegro, as part of the Belgrade District Court, as a positive step, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that other elements may continue to "hamper" this court (20 Oct. 2004). These factors include "a lack of systematic and effective witness protection mechanisms, a lack of interstate cooperation, and weak investigative mechanisms" (20 Oct. 2004). Furthermore, HRW commented that "treatment of witness protection under the criminal procedure law is cursory and inadequate" (HRW 20 Oct. 2004).

The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) denounced the fact that some cases are not treated as war crimes but as "ordinary criminal offences" and has demanded that cases be transferred to the War Crimes Chamber of the District Court in Belgrade (17 September 2004).

Nonetheless, the Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, wants to see more war crimes prosecutions being transferred from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to Serbian courts (IWPR 17 Jan. 2005), while the UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, indicated that local courts in the former Yugoslavia countries "should be ready to prosecute cases [her] tribunal could not deal with" (Reuters 1 Oct. 2004).

In June 2004, the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that the Serbian "War Crimes Prosecutor" had announced that a dozen persons were about to be indicted for war crimes (28 June 2004). As well, a case in which "seven persons accused for war crimes committed in November 1991 against more than 250 civilians of Croatian origin ... [in] Vukovar, Croatia, began in [the] War Crimes Court in Belgrade" (UN 28 June 2004).

In its 2004 report, AI mentioned that three out of four local trials for war crimes had been completed in 2003. AI indicated that two men had been condemned to 20 and 15 years in jail, respectively, in September 2003 for the October 1992 murder of 17 Muslims, while two other men both received 20-year sentences in absentia (2004). The HLC refers to this as the "Svejerin Case" and had identified it as "a test for the Serbian judiciary and its ability to see that justice is done" (16 May 2003). As well, "[i]n October [2003] the Supreme Military Court sentenced Major Dragiša Petrovic and reservist Nenad Stamenkovic to nine and seven years' imprisonment, respectively, for killing an elderly Albanian couple in Kosovo in 1999" (AI 2004).

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported that the trial of 17 Serbian paramilitaries accused of committing war crimes in Vukovar, Croatia, is "currently taking place in the new special war crimes court in Belgrade" (17 Jan. 2005).

A controversy erupted in January 2005, when the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial in the case of a police officer sentenced in 2004; according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), some observers saw this decision as "a wrong signal" to send, while others thought that "procedural breaches" in the investigation had left the court with little choice (IWPR 17 Jan. 2005). The article also mentions that the court had overruled another sentence in a war crime case in September 2004 (ibid.).

In the town of Novi Pazar, accounts of torture occurring during the 1990s led to "court proceedings," only one of which resulted in a guilty verdict, against three police officers, in February 2004 (IWPR 2 Feb. 2005). The five-month sentences have been appealed (ibid.). No information was found among the sources consulted as to the outcome of those appeals. According to the IWPR, the slow pace of trials so far may mean that "the odds of police officers ever having to face a judge, let alone a police cell, lok slim" (ibid.).


In Kosovo, arrests and trials of Albanians accused of involvement in war crimes are ongoing (AI 2004). In July 2003, "former KLA commander Rustem Mustafa and three others were convicted in Priština (Prishtinë) of war crimes connected with the illegal confinement, torture and murder of suspected ethnic Albanian 'collaborators'. They received sentences of up to 17 years' imprisonment" (ibid.). According to AI, claiming that detainees from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are freedom fighters, "tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians" protested these convictions and even attacked "vehicles and property" of the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (ibid.).

The HLC mentioned the case of Anton Lekaj, who has been indicted by the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor, and argues that this individual should be tried by the "International Judicial Council in Kosovo, which is competent to prosecute all Kosovo citizens for war crimes and ethnically motivated offences" (21 Jan. 2005).

HRW observed that "[w]hile there [had] been progress toward the establishment of a functioning and sustainable justice system in Kosovo over the past five years, the current picture of accountability for crimes is one of rampant impunity" (Jan. 2005).

Furthermore, HRW adds that only one third of "the fifty-seven more serious cases relating to murders, ring-leaders, serious inter-ethnic crime, and major arson attacks ... were in the judicial process by late October 2004, with indictments filed in little more than half of those cases" (HRW Jan. 2005). AI reported on the ongoing "[t]rials and retrials ... of Serbs previously convicted of war crimes or genocide by panels with a majority of ethnic Albanian judges" (2004).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2004. "Serbia and Montenegro."Amnesty International Report 2004. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). January 2005. Human Rights Watch World Report 2005. "Serbia and Montenegro." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]

_____. October 2004. "Justice at Risk: War Crimes Trials in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro." [Accessed 16 Feb. 2005]

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) [Belgrade]. 21 January 2005. "HLC on Indictment of Anton Lekaj." [Accessed 17 Feb. 2005]

_____. 17 September 2004. "HLC Demands Witness Protection and Indictment Revision." [Accessed 17 Feb. 2005]

_____. 16 May 2003. "The Sjeverin Case - A Test for the Serbian Judiciary." [Accessed 17 Feb. 2005]

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). 2 February 2005. Dzengis Buljukbas. "Victims of Police Brutality Wait for Justice." Balkan Crisis Report No. 540. (Received by e-mail from the IWPR) [Accessed 17 Feb. 2005]

_____. 17 January 2005. Daniel Sunter. "Observers Doubt Serbia's Ability to Try War Crimes After Court Quashes Verdicts Report." (Dialog)

Reuters. 1 October 2004. Beti Bilandzic. "UN War Court Transfers First Case to Serbia." (Global Policy Forum). [Accessed 16 Feb. 2005]

United Nations (UN). 28 June 2004. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Human Rights Field Operation Serbia and Montenegro (& Kosovo). Quarterly Report (Period covered: February - April 2004) [Accessed 7 Feb. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International, The Balkan Human Rights Web Pages, Comité de liaison pour la solidarité avec l'Europe de l'Est, Country Reports 2003, Le Courrier des Balkans, Government of Serbia and Montenegro, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Norwegian Refugee Council, United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), WNC.

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