State of War Crimes Trials in Croatia Addressed

The Croatian Ministry of Justice believes that significant steps have been taken in prosecuting war crimes, while some NGOs claim that additional efforts are needed.

Vesna Terselic, director of the Zagreb-based Documenta Centre, said that around 700 cases had filed to the state prosecution in the past several years, and that around 400 are still in the pre-investigation phase.

“The state prosecution, as well as the Ministry of Justice, will have to do much more,” Terselic said in Zagreb on Wednesday during a roundtable on the work of the judiciary in the country.

Nongovernmental organisations also warned that the prosecution of war crimes is currently taking place in before 15 local courts all over Croatia, adding that the trials are in danger because of incompetent judges in some cases and the lack of necessary conditions for dealing with war crimes cases in some of the courts.

They insist that all the war crimes trials be held at four courts – Zagreb, Split, Osijek and Rijeka, rather than be dispersed among local courts.

Justice Minister Ivan Simonovic, speaking at yesterday’s roundtable, noted that significant improvements had been made in the last couple of years.

“I will just mention that in the last 5 years in 25 per cent of all the war crimes cases, indictees were of Croat nationality. And that is very important in comparison to previous years,” Simonovic said.

In its latest report on the state of human rights around the world, the US State Department concluded that the “ineffective prosecution of some domestic war crimes trials remained a problem” in Croatia.

Last month, a group of NGOs active in the field of transitional justice in Croatia drafted a report on war crimes prosecution in the country from 2004 to 2009. In that period of time, they monitored 68 trials, that is 77 percent of all the trials that were conducted in the last five years.

“Croatian judiciary made some significant steps in 2009 in war crimes prosecution, but it is still not enough. The real political will and strategy to make trials more effective is nonexistent,” the report claims.

NGOs also warned about injustice toward victims whose requests for compensation were in most cases refused by the courts.

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