Report on Monitoring War Crimes Trials in 2015
For the last ten years Documenta - Center for Dealing with the Past, together with the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights from Osijek, Civic Committee for Human Rights and Pravda from Bjelovar, have been monitoring war crimes trials before Croatian courts, observing in its annual reports trends and recommendations for the improvement of the situation regarding war crimes trials. As of 1st July 2016 we have been monitoring trials with the support of the European Economic Area and the Kingdom of Norway Grants (EEA/NG). Human rights organizations that have been monitoring war crimes trials as of 2005, were recently joined by Pravda from Bjelovar.
Although we are aware that the perpetrators of the crime are increasingly difficult to prosecute due to the passage of time and the reluctance of the witnesses to testify without fear, we are again pointing to the necessity of unveiling the circumstances of all the war crimes and punishing the perpetrators. Only that way can we secure justice for the victims and prevent the recurrence of similar cruel conflicts in the future.
In the course of 2015 we monitored 37 war crimes trials against 117 defendants (12 trials or 32,4% were retrials). In our observations we especially warn of the lenghtiness of trials, such as in the case against Tomislav Merčep where the first instance trial lasted for 4 years, 2 months and 17 days. Another concern is multiple sending of cases for retrial after the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia quashes the lower court decisions, and as a result there is reluctance of injured persons and witnesses to testify again and get (re)traumatized. In a great amount of cases the members of Serbian troops are unavailable to Croatian justice and they are tried in absentia, which indicates that there is a need to improve regional cooperation. The trend of in absentia trials represents several steps back in the practice of war crimes trials from the point of view of the due proces principle. Wa call upon the competent institutions to avoid in absentia trials, to increas exchange of evidence and transfer of cases to the Prosecutor's Offices in the region according to the residence of the defendant, because otherwise in absentia trials are becoming illogical, costly, do not bring justice to the victims and also give way to possible violation of rights of the defendants.
We also stress that there is a need to increase human capacities of the courts and prosecutor's offices, as well as to increase the number of war crimes investigators. Also the support to the victims and witnesses is indispensable in State Prosecutor's Offices and the Police. In the work with the vicitms (direct victims or families of killed and disappeared) of unprosecuted war crimes there is still theproblem of charging the costs of the procedure since they lost suits against the Republic of Croatia for the compensation of non-material damage due to survival of torture or killing of their family members. In July 2012 the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted Rules of criteria, standards and procedure for the postponement of payment, installment debt repayment or partial debt write-off (Official Gazette 52/13) that writes-off the debts of the socially vulnerable citizens, including the costs of court procedures. But the Rules did not solve the problem in a satisfactory manner. According to our information, in some cases the enforcement measures have already been initiated or carried out. It is a disgrace that the Republic of Croatia does not recognize the victim's sufferings by charging them procedural costs, and not respecting their rights guaranteed by international law: UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as EU directives, especially the Directive 2012/29/EU af the European Parliament and of the Council on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime of 2012,that should have been transposed into national legislation until November 2015.