Rights Court Leaves Bosnian War Murder Case to Croatia

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — A murder case stemming from the Bosnian War should be heard in a Croatian court, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.

The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France.

The case, which was dismissed by the Strasbourg-based court, was brought by the surviving members of the Kušić family in an effort to get justice for two of their relatives who were killed  in 1992.

The seven-judge panel pointed to the fact that one of Croatia’s top courts revised its practices and now reviews whether criminal investigations were effective.

The Croatian Constitutional Court “now provides the parties with the possibility to have the effectiveness of investigations…examined,” the ruling states.

The applicants’ relatives, identified as N.K. and P.K, were found on the side of the road in Croatia in February 1992, having died of gunshots to the head and chest. Witnesses said the victims had been abducted by men in camouflage uniforms. The murders were classified as a war crime and are still being investigated.

The family members who brought the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights claimed that the investigation has been ineffective and that the Croatian Constitutional Court had ignored or refused similar cases. They cited five cases seeking compensation from the state for violent deaths that were all dismissed.

The murders occurred just before the official outbreak of the Bosnian War, a conflict lasting from 1992 until 1995 in the southeastern European country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which borders Croatia. Following the breakup of the former Yugsolvia, clashes erupted between the various ethnic and religious groups living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Serbia and Croatia.

The European Court of Human Rights noted that while the Croatian government and the Constitutional Court had refused to address these claims in the past, that is no longer the case. The Constitutional Court has undergone a series of changes in the past five years and oversaw the prosecution of cases similar to the Kušić murders in 2019.

“The existence of mere doubts as to the prospects of success of a particular remedy which is not obviously futile is not a valid reason for failing to exhaust domestic remedies,” the ruling states.

The European Court of Human Rights, an international court that hears cases concerning the European Convention on Human Rights, requires that applicants must exhaust remedies in their home countries before bringing a case.

The United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to prosecute war crimes from the Bosnian War. However, that ad hoc court didn’t try an exhaustive list of crimes that occurred during the war, only crimes that were seen as violations of the Geneva Conventions, such as genocide.

A number of cases were transferred to national courts for prosecution. Like many similar cases, the Kušić murders were never referred to the tribunal and it issued its last indictment in 2004.

If the Kušić family exhausts their legal options in Croatia, they can again submit the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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