War crime in Ahmići
On 29 April 2008, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Court Council announced the first-instance conviction against the defendant Paško Ljubičić for a war crime against humanity and civilians, committed in the region of Central Bosnia in the period between January and July 1993. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Appel against the conviction was not filed.
The 'Ljubičić Case' is one of the eleven cases which have been transferred from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (hereafter ICTY) to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pursuant to the Rule 11bis regulating allocation of court cases by the Hague Tribunal to the courts in the Balkan region. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina accepted the adapted indictment on 21 December 2006, and the main hearing commenced on 11 May 2007.
Upon turning in to the Croatian authorities, i.e. the ICTY, the defendant was detained and he was held in detention for six and a half years – until the announcement of the verdict. He was detained at the detention centre of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 22 September 2006.
THE INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)
The indictment charged Paško Ljubičić with participating in a wider, or systematic, attack of the Croatian Defence Council (hereafter CDC) on Bosnian civilians in the districts of Vitez and Busovača, which took place between January and late July 1993. According to the indictment, in the given period the defendant acted as the commander of the 4th Battalion of the Military Police, which operated in the CDC Operational Zone of Central Bosnia, and in effect had charge over members of the CDC Military Police in the Operational Zone of Central Bosnia.
The indictment further stated that the defendant participated in or committed the following actions:
· The defendant ordered members of the 4th Battalion of the Military Police to lauch an attack on Bosniak civilians in Busovača, in which he himself participated. 27 Bosniaks were killed in this attack. During the attack, members of the unit also plundered and destroyed houses and civilian facilities of Bosniaks;
· In the morning of 16 April 1993, the defendant participated in planning the attacks on the villages of Ahmići, Nadioci, Pirići and Šantići, and ordered members of the 4th Battalion of the Military Police to attack these villages. The order included killing of all Bosniak inhabitants capable of participating in battles, expulsion of entire Bosniak population and destruction of their houses. During the attacks, 100 Bosniak civilians were killed, the entire Bosniak population was expelled from the villages, their houses were destroyed, many civilians suffered psychological and physical injuries, and two mosques were mined;
· Following the orders from the defendant, from January to July 1993 members of the 4th Battalion of the Military Police unlawfully imprisoned Bosniak civilians incapable of participating in war in the districts of Vitez and Busovača, took them to the detention where they beat them and subjected them to other ways of physical and phychological abuse.
In sum, the indictment charged the defendant with the following crimes:
· a war crime against humanity pursuant to Article 172 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the counts of:
c) imprisonment (random and unlawful arrests and detention of civilians in prisons or detention centres);
d) torture (beating and other severe physical and psychological abuse);
e) other inhumane acts (beating and other severe physical and psychological abuse, detention of civilians in inhumane conditions, forced labour and using civilians as live shield);
· a war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 173 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the counts of:
a) attacks on civilians and civilian objects;
b) destruction and plundering of property;
· a breach of the laws and customs of war pursuant to Article 179 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the count of:
a) destruction or intentional damaging of religious institutions (destruction of mosques);
all of the crimes being also related to Articles 29, 31, 35 and Article 180, Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Case No: X-KRO/06/241
Indictment No: KT-RZ 140/06
Indictment confirmed on: 18 December 2006; the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina accepted the adapted indictment on 21 December 2006
Defendant: Paško Ljubičić
Criminal offence: a crime against humanity pursuant to Article 172 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina; a war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 173 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina; a breach of laws and customs of war pursuant to Article 179 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, all in relation to Articles 29, 31, and 35, and Article 180, Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Court Council:
Šaban Maksumić, Council President
Merja Helena Halme-Korhonen, Council member
Marie Tuma, Council member
Prosecution: David Schwendiman
Tomislav Jonjić, a lawyer from Zagreb
Branka Praljak, a lawyer from Travnik
The defendant refused to enter his plea before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The position of the defence was that the defendant should not enter a plea to the charges of the adapted indictment, considering that he had already entered his plea at the ICTY. The defence claimed that the charges of the adapted indictment, accepted by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, were more serious than the original indictment charges issued by the ICTY.
During the trial, a recurrently raised issue was that of the actual justification of the detention order for the defendant. The defence demanded that the defendant be released from detention with the application of the required security measures; however, this was rejected by the Court Council which suspected there could be a danger of escape. Considering that the defendant is a holder of a dual citizenship (that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Croatia), such decision was considered justified.
Most of the court sessions were open to public. During only a few testimonies, certain protective measures were implemented, such as exclusion of the public, the use of pseudonyms, a picture distortion and other commonly used measures. While some witnesses gave different statements to the Hague investigators, including the statements given to the Prosecution of the Bosnia and Herzegovina, other witnesses could not remember certain events or surnames of certain persons due to a considerable time distance, which diminished the value of their statements.
The trial was monitored by the regional war crime trials monitoring team. Here we bring reports from the monitoring teams from Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past (Zagreb, Croatia) and the Reasearch and Documentation Centre Sarajevo.
The Court Council of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced the first-instance verdict on 29 April 2008, convicting the defendant Paško Ljubičić of a crime against humanity and civilians in Central Bosnia, committed in the period between January and July 1993, and sentencing him to 10 years in prison.
The verdict came as a result of the agreement on the confession of guilt made between the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the defendant Paško Ljubičić and his lawyers, which the Court accepted. The defendant confessed to committing the crimes he was indicted with and pledged to cooperation in order for the full truth about the crimes in Central Bosnia to be revealed.
The altered indictment, delivered to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina along with the Agreement on the Confession of Guilt, charged the defendant with a war crime against civilians for assisting in and supporting the planning and execution of the war crime in Ahmići, pursuant to Article 173 of the Penal Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Under command responsibility, the defendant was found responsible for the crimes committed by his subordinates.
The defendant entered a plea of guilty and stated that he fully accepted the responsibilty for following the order issued by Tihomir Blaškić. Also, the defendant pledged to cooperate with the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Hague Tribunal, using the following words: «I will help to reveal the events.»
The Hague Tribunal representatives were familiar with the Agreement on the Confession of Guilt before the Court Council actually approved it.
After the verdict was read, the defendant was released from detention and will be free until summoned to serve the remaining time of his sentence. Six and a half years spent in detention will be calculated into the pronounced sentence.
Appeal against this decision can be made to the Court Appeal Council. Considering that the verdict was reached on the basis of the agreement on the confession of guilt, the appeal against the penal sanction is not allowed.
Appel against the conviction was not filed.
After seven years of denying, Paško Ljubičić finally accepted responsibility for assistance and solicitation for planning and execution of the crime against civilians in Ahmići, committed by his subordinates, inter alia, also for failing to refuse to convey the order issued by his superior officer Tihomir Blaškić for the attack on Ahmići and the surrounding villages. The Prosecution negotiated the confession of guilt for the charges which referred to 'established' crimes and evidence, as they had already been presented and established at the first-instance trial against Tihomir Blaškić at the ICTY, but withdrew the charges which would be harder to prove.
In our opinion, a ten-year prison sentence is not appropriate for such a serious crime. Additionally, the details of the Agreement or the Annex to the Agreement referring to the facts and criminal acts the defendant confessed to, as well as the details of his pledge of cooperation with the Prosecution have never been revealed to victims' family members or the public. In other words, a public acceptance of responsibility and repentance, which are necessary for satisfying the victims' need for justice, the public condemnation of the crime and prevention of further breaches of the international humanitarian law, have never taken place. On the contrary, it seems that this agreement has only contributed to the perception in the public that justice was 'traded' in the favour of the defendant, which has already resulted in a series of negative reactions from the victims from Ahmići.
The honesty of the confession and repentance of the defendant, and the plausibility of the Prosecution will only be confirmed by future events – the quality of cooperation on the establishment of facts and responsibility of the commanders and perpetrators of all serious crimes in the Lašva Valley.
The Research and Documentation Centre Sarajevo