Sasa Cvjetan

08.12.2011 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
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In 1999, Sasa Cvjetan was a reservist in the “Scorpions” a special anti terrorist unit of the Serbian police force, which reported to the Interior Ministry.

The allegations against Sasa Cvjetan were related to the 28 March 1999 massacre by the “Scorpions” of 19 Albanian civilians in Podujevo, a massacre in which Cvjetan participated.

In March 1999, around one million Albanians fled Kosovo after the Serb leader,Slobodan Milosevic, initiated one of the most deadly ethnic cleansing operations in the Balkan region. It was during this period that a squadron of the special police forces, the “Scorpions”, was sent there.

On 28 March 1999, reservists of this special unit entered the town of Podujevo and ordered the inhabitants out of their homes. Amongst the residents was a family of 19 members who were riddled with bullets by the reservists in their own garden: amongst those hit and killed were seven women and seven children.

The Serb Justice Minister of the time decided to open an inquiry into the murder of Albanians from Podujevo during that same year right in the middle of the war. The Serb police then arrested Sasa Cvjetan, who confessed to his participation in the Podujevo massacre in a written affidavit. Nevertheless, he was later released by the police authorities.

In January 2001, Sasa Cvjetan was again arrested by the Serbian police. The inquiry into his involvement in the Podujevo massacre was reopened and ended in his being indicted in April 2002.

legal procedure

At the beginning of April 2002, the Prosecutor of the Serb town of Prokuplje indicted Sasa Cvjetan for war crimes.

His trial began in October 2002 in Prokuplje.

Sasa Cvjetan at this point retracted the confession he signed in 1999 and denied any involvement in the Podujevo massacre. He based his defence on the fact that there was no lawyer present during his admission of guilt and, as a result, since Serbian law requires the presence of a lawyer during every hearing, the Court could not base its decision on an affidavit written under such circumstances. A panel of five judges from the Prokuplje Court was set up to study the new elements put forward by the defence.
However, on 27 November 2002, the Supreme Court of Serbia made the decision to transfer the case to the Belgrade Court. The trial was then re-opened in Belgrade on 12 March 2003.

Four survivors of the Podujevo massacre gave evidence on 9 and 10 July 2003 and identified Sasa Cvjetan as being present during the killings.

On 17 March 2004, Sasa Cvjetan was found guilty of the murder of 14 of the victims during the Podujevo massacre, and therefore of war crimes against the civilian population. He was sentenced to the maximum prison term of 20 years, the judges having considered that he committed the murders with full intent and was fully aware of his acts.

This decision was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court of Serbia, which sent the case back before the Belgrade Court.

On 17 June 2005, Sasa Cvjetan, after a second trial, was again sentenced to the same term of 20 years in prison for his participation in the Podujevo massacre. This judgement was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Serbia on 22 December 2005 .



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 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.

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