Closing Arguments Heard in Retrial of Ex-Serbian Security Officials

Two former high-ranking Serbian security officers are accused of committing crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War.

Jovica Stanisic, left, and Franko Simatovic appear before the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2017. (Photo courtesy of U.N. MICT via Courthouse News)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The prosecution delivered its closing statements Monday in a retrial of two top former Serbian secret police officers, arguing they should be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity despite an earlier acquittal. 

Jovica Stanisic, former head of the Serbian State Security Service, and his top deputy Franko Simatovic were acquitted in 2013 on charges of murder and illegal deportations of non-Serbs during violent conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, but an appeals court ordered a new trial two years later. 

The retrial is taking place before The Hague-based United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, or MICT. The case is widely seen as the last opportunity for the Serbian state to be held accountable for the violence that occurred following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“The prosecution’s evidence has, without any doubt, established the responsibility of Stanisic and Simatovic. The inevitable conclusion is that they are guilty of the crimes they are accused of,” Douglas Stringer, the prosecution’s senior lawyer, told the MICT on Monday.

According to the prosecution, under the direction of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian State Security used paramilitary groups to eradicate non-Serbs, mostly Croats and Bosniaks, from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Stanisic and Simatovic are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity and one count of war crimes for events that took place in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1991 and 1995. Neither men were present in court Monday.

“At least 340,000 members of the non-Serb community were impacted by the actions of the defendants,” Stringer said.

The pair were arrested in 2003 and their first trial began five years later before the now-disbanded International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Both men pleaded not guilty. In 2013, judges at the court found that while paramilitary groups – with names like the Ninjas, the Scorpions and the Tigers – did commit war crimes, Stanisic and Simatovic couldn’t be personally linked to them. 

However, in 2015, an appeals court ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors in the decision and ordered a new trial, which began in 2017. The court heard from some 80 witnesses over the subsequent three years. The MICT took over pending judicial processes from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia when it was closed in 2017. The tribunal was created by a 1993 U.N. resolution to prosecute serious crimes that occurred during a series of wars and ethnic conflicts that broke out on the Southeastern Europe peninsula. 

The prosecution has focused on connecting the men, now both 71 years old, to a joint criminal enterprise including Milosevic, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and others. They were commonly referred to as “Milosevic’s men on the ground” during the conflict. 

In all, the tribunal brought 161 people to trial for murder, torture, forced displacement, and other atrocities crimes, convicting 90. Milosevic himself was charged with genocide, murder, and attacks on civilians but died of a heart attack before a verdict could be reached in the case. Both Karadzic and Mladic were sentenced to life in prison for genocide and other crimes for their roles in the conflict. The prosecution has requested the same sentence for Stanisic and Simatovic.

Closing statements will continue on Tuesday with the defense. 

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