Branko Grujic

23.04.2016 ( Last modified: 23.08.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

facts

Branko Grujic was born on 8 August 1944. During the conflict in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, he held the presidential offices in the municipality crisis headquarters, in the provisional government and in the war headquarters in Zvornik,

On an unestablished date, which was most probably 26 May 1992, Grujic and Branko Popovic, organized and conducted the voluntary evacuation of residents of the village of Divici; the evacuation resulted in failure, whereupon the villagers were returned to the bus station in Zvornik, most probably on 27 May 1992. The column of refugees was composed of men, women, old people and children, mainly Muslims. Upon their return to the Zvornik bus station, the refugees were met by the members of the Serbian Municipality Zvornik Territorial Defence, who removed 174 men aged between 18 and 60 from the column and took them to the »Novi Izvor« administration building, where they were withheld in detention.

Subsequently, on the next day, on 28 May 1992, the Territorial Defence forces transferred the remaining 163 civilians to the Home of Culture in Celopek, wherein they were held confined without basic facilities for personal hygiene, such as water or bedding.

Several members of a special unit of the Territorial Defence forces, who conducted “their own investigation”, entered several times the Home of Culture in Celopek, in the day and at night, acting alone or in smaller groups, looting money and gold jewels from the detained civilians. They regularly tortured, mutilated or killed them.

Although aware of the illegal conduct of the special unit, Grujic and Popovic failed to prevent such actions. This practice continued until 1 July 1992, when the remaining 116 survivors were transferred to the prison facilities in Zvornik, and subsequently, on 15 July 1992, 83 of them to the exchange camp in the village of Batkovic. During these events at the Home of Culture in Celopek, 19 civilians were killed.

On 1 June 1992, Grujic and Popovic ordered to the Territorial Defense Force of Zvornik to arrest 700 military-aged Muslim men from a.o. the villages of Klisa and Djulici and to detain them in the Technical School Center (TSC) in Karakaj. They were detained in inhuman and degrading conditions without appropriate ventilation, which resulted in the suffocation of several persons on that same day. They remained in these conditions until 5 June 1992, when the hostages were transported to the Cultural Center in Pilica. On 8 June 1992, around 400 of them were taken to a place called “Gero’s Butchery”, in Karakaj, where they were massacred. The bodies of approximately 250 of them were later discovered in a mass grave while the other bodies are still missing. Grujic and Popovic allegedly knew about these incidents, but did not take any measures to prevent them.

Furthermore, on the date of 26 June 1992, Grujic and Popovic allegedly ordered and, aided by the Territorial Defence units, forcibly conducted the mass evacuation of 1822 civilians of the then Muslim nationality, from the territories of villages Kozluk and Skocic to the Republic of Hungary.

In addition, Grujic was allegedly involved in a number of crimes at the “Ekonomija” farm and at the “Ciglana” site in Zvornik. From the 5th to the 12th May 1992, numerous civilians were confined at “Ekonomija” farm, where a number of them where seriously injured and subjected to inhumane treatment. On 12 May 1992, 22 civilians were transferred to the “Ciglana” site and were subjected to forced labour. This resulted in the death of at least two civilians. Popovic was allegedly aware of the offences and did nothing to prevent them.

Grujic and Popovic were indicted on 12 August 2005 by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia.

legal procedure

Grujic was indicted on 12 August 2005 by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia. Initially the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia conducted investigations on the case of Grujic and Popovic. In 2004, however, the case was referred to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia.

On 28 November 2005 the trial of the so-called “Zvornik Group” commenced before the War Crimes Chamber in Belgrade (“Zvornik I”). Grujic was being tried together with Popovic, Dragan Slavkovic, Ivan Korac, Sinisa Filipovic, Dragutin Dragicevic, and Dusko Vuckovic.

On 6 March 2008, the War Crimes Prosecutor issued an indictment against Grujic and Popovic, charging them with war crimes against the civilian population for the deportation of almost 2000 Muslims from Kozluk on 26 June 1992, and for the detention, torturing and killing of Muslims at the prisoners camps of Celopek, Ekonomija and Ciglana in the period from the beginning of April to the end of July 1992.

On 26 May 2008, pursuant to the War Crimes Prosecutor’s motion, the War Crimes Chamber separated proceedings against Popovic and Grujic in view of a still ongoing investigation at the time (“Zvornik II”). Subsequently, on 22 October 2008, the War Crimes Prosecutor expanded the indictment against both accused by adding the murder of the 400 civilians detained at the Technical School Center and liquidated at Gero’s Butchery.

The separate trial of Grujić and Popović began on 24 September 2008. On 20 November 2008, the trial chamber ruled to join criminal proceedings upon the extended indictment (“Zvornik II”) with the proceedings already in process against Grujić and Popović (“Zvornik I”). Popovic pleaded not guilty for all the charges brought against him.

On 8 November 2010, the War Crimes Prosecutor specified the indictment with regard to the liability of Grujić, reducing it to the imprisonment of 174 Muslims from Divici, forcible relocation of Muslims from Kozluk, and imprisonment of approximately 700 Muslims from Dulici and Klisa. This reduction in liability was based on the contention that Grujic was not in a position to order the use of Territorial Defence or police units.

The Belgrade Higher Court War Crimes Department trial chamber, presided over by Judge Tatjana Vukovic, rendered a judgment on 22 November 2010. The trial chamber found the accused Grujic and Popovic guilty of committing the criminal acts of taking hostages and treating them inhumanely, committed on two occasions (i.e. on 27 May 1992 in the village of Divici and on 1 June 1992 in the villages of a.o. Djulici and Klisa). They were also found guilty of forcible relocation of almost 2000 Muslims from the village of Kozluk. Grujic was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment.

On 3 October 2011, the Court of Appeals in Belgrade confirmed the first instance verdict.

context

The conflict in former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999, shocked international public opinion because of the abuses revealed by the press, which were committed by all parties to the conflict (massacres, forced displacements of population, concentration camps …). The conflict is considered to consist of several separate conflicts, which were ethnic in nature – the war in Slovenia (1991), the war in Croatia (1991-1995), the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995) and the war Kosovo (1998-1999), which also involved the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

The conflicts accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the constituent republics declared their independence. The wars mostly ended after peace accords were signed, and new republics were given full international recognition of their statehood.

In order to restore peace and security in the region, the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of UN Charter, created on 25 May 1993, by Resolution 827, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It was determined that pursuant to numerous reports of, among other, mass killings, systematic detention, rapes, practice of “ethnic cleansing”, transfers, etc., these acts constituted a threat to international peace and security, necessitating a reaction by Security Council. As the Tribunal was created during the ongoing conflict, the Security Council expressed its hopes that ICTY would contribute to halting violations in the region. Its headquarters are in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Tribunal has jurisdiction to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law – grave breaches of Geneva Conventions, violations of laws and customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity – allegedly committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991, (no end date was specified). Since its creation, the ICTY has indicted more than 160 people, including heads of states and government members.

The Tribunal’s mandate was originally meant to expire on 31 December 2009, but the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the Court with several judges, including permanent judges, so that the ongoing trials can be completed. According to the “ICTY Completion Strategy Report” from 18 May 2011, all trials were supposed to be completed by the end of 2012, and all the appeals by the end of 2015. The exceptions were cases of Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

The Security Council adopted resolution 1966 on 22 December 2010, establishing International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The ICTY residual mechanism began functioning on 1 July 2013.

The Tribunal was called to finish its work by the end of 2014, in order to prepare closure and transfer of cases to the Residual Mechanism. The Mechanism is a small and temporary body, which plays important role in ensuring that the completion strategy of ICTY does not result in impunity of fugitives and in injustice. It is conducting all outstanding first instance trials, including those of Karadzic, Mladic and Hadzic. It is also to complete all appeals proceedings that were filed before 1 July 2013.

The ICTY is not the only court with jurisdiction to try alleged perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal has concurrent jurisdiction with national courts. However, it takes precedence over them and may require the referral from the national court at any stage of the proceedings (Article 9 of the ICTY Statute). The Statute does not elaborate how the primacy is to be exercised, but it was asserted by the judges of the ICTY in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The primacy can be asserted in three cases: when an international crime is intentionally or unwittingly prosecuted before national court as an “ordinary criminal offence”, when a national court is unreliable, or when the case is closely related, or may be relevant to other cases being tried by the ICTY.

NATIONAL JURISDICTIONS

National courts also have jurisdiction to prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

In the former Yugoslavia, the trials of those accused of war crimes have been opened by the courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Section for War Crimes was set up in the Criminal and Appellate Divisions of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Special Chamber for War Crimes has jurisdiction to prosecute the most serious alleged war crimes committed in Bosnia, and was created to relieve the ICTY, so that it can focus on criminals of high rank. Its establishment was also considered necessary for effective war crimes prosecution in Bosnia. The opening of the Special Chamber was on 9 March 2005.

Additionally, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from 10 June 1999, UN administration was created in Kosovo. Consequently, in 2000 “Regulation 64” Panels in Courts of Kosovo were created, which are mixed chambers at the local courts. They have two international judges and one national. These panels work in collaboration with the ICTY. They have jurisdiction over those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. They focus on prosecuting lower ranking offenders.

In Serbia, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor was established on 1 July 2003. It was created to detect and prosecute perpetrators of criminal offenses against humanity and international law, and offences recognised by the ICTY Statute, regardless of the nationality, citizenship, race or religion of the perpetrator and the victim, as long as the acts were committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991. Its seat is in Belgrade, Serbia.

Other relevant national jurisdictions are under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states with a specific legal basis, to try perpetrators of serious crimes regardless of their nationality or that of the victims and regardless of where the crime was committed.