BiH war crimes court reaches verdict in one case, starts another

photo21.jpgThe trial of Radovan Stankovic was held almost entirely behind closed doors. As it pronounced its verdict on November 14th, the trial panel cited the need to protect the witnesses’ identity and ensure that justice was served.

SFOR forces arrested Stankovic in July 2002. He was then taken to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which decided to refer his to case to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) war crimes court. It was the first case transferred from the UN court to BiH.

The defendant was accused, along with seven others, of participating in a systematic attack by the Bosnian Serb army against the non-Serb civilian population in the eastern town of Foca. According to the verdict pronounced by the Sarajevo court, he and other soldiers formed a detention centre for women, known as “Karaman’s house”. He brought at least nine women, most of them juveniles, to this location and held them captive there.

Furthermore, Stankovic allegedly “claimed” one of the women prisoners for his own use, raping her almost every night, and on one occasion raping her juvenile sister in her presence.

The testimony given by more than ten women in the case was clear and straightforward and the defence provided no plausible arguments against them, the court said. It sentenced him to 16 years in prison for crimes against humanity, minus time already served.

Stankovic was acquitted of two counts in the indictment, involving the alleged rapes of a hospital patient and a prisoner at a detention centre.

The other indictees in the Foca case were Dragan Zelenovic, Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac, Zoran Vukovic, Gojko Jankovic, Dragan Gagovic and Janko Janjic. Kunarac, Kovac and Vukovic were convicted in February 2001 and received sentences of 28, 20 and 12 years in prison, respectively. Gagovic and Janjic died during attempts to arrest them in 1999 and 2000.

Stankovic’s lawyer, Nebojsa Pantic, has vowed that to appeal the verdict.

Also on November 14th, the trial of Zeljko Mejakic and four others began at the BiH War Crimes Court. The trial is expected to draw considerable media coverage due to the nature of the charges. Mejakic is accused of directly participating in the persecutions of the non-Serb civilians in Prijedor in 1992.

It is alleged that more than 7,000 non-Serb civilians were captured, taken and arbitrarily confined at the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps in accordance with a plan for the permanent removal of the non-Serb population.

According to the indictment, between May 24th and August 30th 1992, Mejakić was the chief of security and commander of Omarska Camp.He and the other indictees have been charged with crimes against humanity, as well as murder, imprisonment and torture of captured civilians.

Mejakic’s case was referred to BiH from The Hague in July 2005. The next hearing is expected next week, and the prosecution — headed by foreign prosecutor Peter Kidd — is expected to start presenting evidence in early December.

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