Milan Kovacevic

23.12.2009 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
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facts

Milan Kovacevic was born on 10 February 1941, in the village of Bozici, in Prijedor Municipality, Bosnia Herzegovina. He was an anaesthetist by profession and served as the Director of the Prijedor Medical Center. He joined the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in 1990. He was officially appointed President of the Executive Committee of the Municipal Assembly of Prijedor on 4 January 1991. He was also appointed as a member of the Municipal Committee for National Defence. The members of the SDS-appointed Committee of National Defence, including theaccused, would later become the Municipality of Prijedor Crisis Staff.

When the Crisis Staff took over power, Milan Kovacevic was appointed as its Vice-President.

His duties included: assisting the president in the exercise of his function and substituting for him in his absence; co-ordinating all Civil Defence activities (including, inter alia, planning protective measures for the Serbian population during attacks, and the subsequent removal of dead bodies and clean up of the buildings which had been destroyed in the areas attacked); taking charge of certain political responsibilities, including the propaganda programme and ensuring that all the logistical support necessary for the successful conduct of the armed conflict and the operation of the Municipality was in place and operational.

As the Vice-President of the Crisis Staff, Milan Kovacevic was said to have played a key role in the crimes that occurred in the Municipality of Prijedor. The core members of the Crisis Staff included Milan Kovacevic, the SDS-appointed President of the Municipal Assembly, the President of the Municipal Board of the SDS in Prijedor, the SDS-appointed Commander of the Territorial Defence (TO), the SDS-appointed Commander of the Public Security Centre , and the Commander of the local Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) garrison. These leading members worked closely together as a team in the planning and decision making process concerning the complete range of operations related to the conduct of hostilities and the destruction of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat communities in the Municipality. Individual members then carried out the responsibilities specifically assigned to them under the plan. Throughout its existence, the Crisis Staff worked as a collective body to co-ordinate and implement the overall plan which was to take over, control and “ethnically cleanse” the Prijedor Municipality.

According to the indictment, immediately after the takeover of the town of Prijedor, the Crisis Staff imposed severe restrictions on all aspects of life for non-Serbs, including freedom of movement and the right to employment. The effect of these restrictions was to confine the non-Serb population to the villages and areas in the Municipality where they were then living. Beginning in late May, those areas were subjected to extremely violent, large-scale attacks by the Serb military and police forces. The Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats who survived the initial artillery and infantry attacks were reported to have been captured by the Serb forces and transferred to camps and detention facilities established and operated under the direction of the Crisis Staff.

In the camps and detention facilities, the Serb forces were said to have targeted the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, in particular intellectuals, professional and political leaders, and males of military age, who were singled out for killing, torture, and other inhumane treatment. During the period from end May, 1992, to early August, 1992, at a minimum, hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were never identified, perished. After the existence of the camps became known to the outside world in early August 1992, the Crisis Staff closed the Omarska and Keraterm camps and transferred the survivors to the remaining camp in Prijedor Municipality and to the Manjaca camp in the Banja Luka Municipality. It was from these two camps that almost all of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat survivors were then transferred by force or deported from the area.

Milan Kovacevic was detained by the SFOR forces and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 10 July 1997.

Legal Procedure

Milan Kovacevic was detained by the SFOR forces and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 10 July 1997.

The indictment, adopted on March 13, 1997 and later amended on January 28, 1998, included 15 charges, concerning Milan Kovacevic’s direct criminal responsibility (Art. 7 § 1 ICTY Statute) or his superior responsibility (Art. 7 § 3 ICTY Statute) in:

– genocide and complicity to commit genocide
– crime against humanity (extermination); violation of the laws or customs of war (murder); grave breach of the Geneva conventions (wilful killing)
– crime against humanity (persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds)
– crime against humanity (torture); violations of the laws or customs of war (cruel treatment; torture); grave breaches of the Geneva conventions (torture; wilfully causing great suffering)
– crime against humanity (deportation); grave breach of the Geneva conventions (unlawful deportation or transfer)
– violation of the laws or customs of war (wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages or devastation not justified by military necessity); grave breach of the Geneva conventions (extensive destruction of property and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly).

During his initial court appearance, on 30 July 1997, Milan Kovacevic pleaded not guilty to all of the charges held against him.

His trial began on 6 July 1998.

Milan Kovacevic died of natural causes on 1 August 1998. On 24 August 1998, le Trial Chamber issued an order terminating the procedure against Milan Kovacevic.

Context

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

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.