THE HAGUE, January 24 (FENA) - Former Serbian State Security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic appealed at the UN court in The Hague against their conviction for wartime crimes in the Bosanski Samac area of Bosnia in 1992, Balkan Insight reports.
Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic urged the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday to reverse the verdict sentencing them to 12 years in prison each and acquit them of aiding and abetting Serb fighting units that committed crimes in the Bosanski Samac area during the Bosnian war in 1992.
The two men, both powerful and widely-feared figures in Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia in the 1990s, were convicted of assisting fighters from the Serbian State Security’s Special Operations Unit, an armed police force known as the Red Berets, who committed the crimes.
The verdict in July 2021 was the first-ever conviction of top Serbian wartime officials for crimes during the wars that broke out during the break-up of Yugoslavia.
But Stanisic’s lawyer Wayne Jordash argued that his client and Simatovic had been “convicted of aiding and abetting without any finding that actually relates to the specific crimes or the specific intent of the specific direct perpetrators”.
The verdict said that there was an already-established pattern of crimes committed by Serb units that involved “persecution, murder, deportation and inhumane acts” against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But Jordash argued that the trial chamber “did not discuss how the pattern of previous crimes in Croatia or Bosnia had any real relevance to Stanisic’s knowledge of the Bosanski Samac crimes charge”.
He said the court also failed to assess whether the Serb forces involved in other attacks “were the same forces which attacked Bosanski Samac”.
“They were not,” he added.
Simatovic’s lawyer Mihailo Bakrac argued meanwhile that his client, under the regulations that were in force at the time, “could not play any role in the [State Security Special Operations] Unit, he could not have any managing position or commanding position”.
Bakrac added that by doing his job of gathering intelligence, Simatovic “had to be in contact with the unit as well, not in terms of authority or command and control”.
“He was not aware that the group would support military activities in Bosanski Samac and that they would commit crimes there,” he said.
Both defendants’ lawyers insisted that the sentence was too harsh and that the court should at least take into account that the proceedings have been continuing since 2003.
Responding to the defence, prosecutor Laurel Baig argued that trial chamber had found that Stanisic “knew that he was supporting the commission of the crimes and as chief of the Serbian state security it was his job to know”.
“The chamber found that he had unparalleled access to information about the events on the ground, in Croatia and in Bosnia Herzegovina, including the commission of the crimes,” Baig said.
She pointed to prosecution evidence of an intercepted telephone conversation between Stanisic and wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic from January 1992, in which Stanisic told Karadzic: “I don’t know how much you know, but we know everything.”
“The crimes in Bosanski Samac were not an aberration,” Baig said.
“They were consistent with the pattern of crimes that was being perpetrated across the region pursuant to the criminal plan,” she added.
The prosecution will deliver its own appeal at the Hague court on Wednesday. Prosecutors are aiming to have Stanisic and Simatovic convicted of other, much wider charges in the indictment, of which they were acquitted in July 2021.
The indictment accused them of participation in a joint criminal enterprise whose aim was the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, mainly Croats and Bosniaks, from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period from 1991 to 1995.
They were accused of having “directed and organised the financing, training, logistical support and other substantial assistance or support” for Serbian State Security special armed units and other Serb forces, such as paramilitary groups that were involved committing crimes during the wars in both countries. These included the Serbian Volunteer Guard, widely known as Arkan’s Tigers, and the Scorpions.
Stanisic and Simatovic were charged as alleged members of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ along with Milosevic and other Serbian political, military and police officials and leaders of Croatian and Bosnian Serbs.
The proceedings in the case against the two men have continued for two decades so far. They were sent to The Hague in 2003 and were initially acquitted by the court in 2013.
The court’s appeals chamber overturned the acquittal verdict in 2015, ruling that serious legal and factual errors had been made, and their retrial started in 2017.
(FENA) L. N.