Branko Popovic (a.k.a. Marko Pavlovic) was born in 1949 in Sombor in Serbia. On 28 April 1992, he was appointed as Commander of the Territorial Defence Staff and member of the War Staff in Zvornik, Bosnia-Herzegovina. On 16 June 1992 he was appointed as head of the Military Territory Command by Branko Grujic who held the presidential offices in the Crisis Staff, Municipality, Provisional Government and War Staff in Zvornik.
On an unestablished date, which was most probably 26 May 1992, Popovic and Grujic allegedly organized and conducted 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, 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, 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 from the 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 were regularly tortured, mutilated or killed.
Although aware of the illegal conducts of the special unit, Popovic and Grujic failed to prevent such actions. These 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.
Furthermore, on the date of 26 June 1992, Popovic and Grujic 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 the villages Kozluk and Skocic to the Republic of Hungary.
On 1 June 1992, Grujic and Popovic ordered the Territorial Defense Force of Zvornik to arrest 700 military-aged muslim men 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 allegedly 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 bodies of other men are still missing. Grujic and Popovic allegedly knew about these incidents, but did not take any measures to prevent them.
In addition, Popovic 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 treatments. 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.
Popovic and Grujic were indicted on 12 August 2005 by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia.
Popovic 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”). Popovic was being tried together with Branko Grujic, 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.
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 Popovic and Grujic guilty of committing the criminal acts of taking hostages and treating them inhumanely, committed on different 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. In addition, Popovic was found guilty of the inhumane treatment, and assistance to the killing of civilians detained in different detention centres in Zvornik Municipality (Celopek, Ekonomija, Ciglana and the Technical School Center). He was however acquitted of responsibility for the killing of over 200 civilians on 8 June 1992 in “Gero’s Butchery”. Popovic was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office said it would appeal the verdicts, stating that the sentences were “inadequate considering the responsibility of the accused, with regard to the number of victims, the mass and brutal character of the crimes.”
On 3 October 2011, the Court of Appeals in Belgrade confirmed the first instance verdict.
By recognizing that Popovic assisted in the commission of the crime by his failure to act, the war crimes Chamber acknowledged for the first time in the practice of Serbian domestic courts, a principle which have all the characteristics of the command responsibility, when superiors had knowledge of the crimes. Since the concept of command responsibility could not have been applied as it was not a feature of national legislation at the time of the offense, the application of this reasoning has special significance as it represents an attempt to bridge this gap.