Without information, no reconciliation

Court orders retrial of ex-Milosevic intel chief, deputy

2 min 34Approximate reading time

The UN Yugoslav war crimes court Tuesday in a rare turnabout quashed the acquittals of two top officials from Slobodan Milosevic's former regime, ordering them to be retried on charges of running Serbian death squads.

A storm of protest erupted over the 2013 acquittals of Milosevic's former intelligence chief Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic of five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Balkans conflict in the 1990s.

But on Tuesday Judge Fausto Pocar, in granting the prosecution's appeal against the acquittals, said the two men must be "retried on all counts of the indictment".

The five-judge appeals court had found by a majority that the original trial judges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had "erred" on several points of the law, Pocar said.

Stanisic and Simatovic, both 65, will now be tried again on charges stemming from the conflicts that erupted following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

More than 100,000 people died and some 2.2 million were made homeless.

- Paramilitary units -

Prosecutors accuse the two men of organising, financing and supplying Serb paramilitary groups, including an elite unit called the "Red Berets" and the feared paramilitary outfit run by Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic, called "Arkan's Tigers, between April 1991 and the end of 1995.

The units cut a swathe of terror and destruction across Croatia and Bosnia as they attacked towns and murdered Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs to force them out of large areas in a bid to create a Serb-run state, prosecutors said.

UN prosecutors, who have called for a life sentence, also allege that Stanisic and Simatovic were part of a joint criminal enterprise, which included Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

The ICTY's trial judges said in May 2013 that although the Serbian units carried out the killings, Stanisic and Simatovic could not be held criminally responsible as they did not give the units specific orders to commit the crimes.

Trial judges also said there was not enough evidence linking the men to a joint criminal enterprise.

The appeals judges disagreed.

"The appeals chamber... finds that the trial chamber erred in law in requiring that the acts of the aider and abettor be specifically directed to assist the commission of a crime," Judge Pocar said.

Dressed in charcoal suits, both men listened without emotion as the judge read out the ruling.

They will now go back into ICTY custody pending the retrial, but judges did not say when the case would start again.

- 'Retrial to last years'-

While victims hailed the ruling, Stanisic's lawyer Wayne Jordash called it "extremely disappointing".

"In our view, the original trial chamber considered the evidence very carefully," he told reporters.

A retrial was "the worst of all options," he added, saying it "will take 18 months to start at best, will involve two to three years of trial and two years or so of appeal."

"Bring back the original trial chamber, it will take them a matter of weeks to consider what they found and add the missing analysis that the appeals chamber has found," Jordash suggested.

Judge Pocar, however, had ruled out that move saying two of the three original judges were no longer in office.

Vladimir Petrovic, who represented Simatovic, told AFP: "Our clients are victims in a dispute between the scholars and judges and professors within international criminal law."

It is only the second time in the court's 23-year history that an acquittal has been overturned on appeal, court officials said.

It came after a leaked letter in 2013 by a former ICTY judge suggested that the tribunal's president Theodor Meron had pressured judges to acquit some Croatian and Serbian officers, possibly under US pressure.

Milosevic himself died in 2006 while in custody as he stood trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

"We are happy that the mistakes by the court have been fixed," said Munira Subasic, who heads the Mothers of Srebrenica association.

They are a group of women whose male relatives were killed in the July 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 men at the UN enclave in eastern Bosnia by Bosnian Serbs.

Sign up to the newsletter