Veselin Vlahovic, born in 1969 in Montenegro, was a member of the paramilitary forces of the Serb Republic of BiH, later Republika Srpska. In his younger year, Vlahovic was a youth boxer and a bouncer in a famous club of Sarajevo.
Vlahović allegedly persecuted the civilian non-Serb population from Grbavica, Vraca and Kovačići settlements in the Novo Sarajevo Municipality. As a part of the persecution on national, ethnic and religious grounds, the accused allegedly committed the crimes of deprivation of life (murder), slavery, rape (including on pregnant women), unlawful detention, physical and mental abuse (inhumane treatment), robbery and enforced disappearance of civilian non-Serb population.
After the war, Vlahović was sentenced to three years for robbery and violence but escaped in 2001. He then shot a man to death in a bar in Serbia, for which he was sentenced in abstentia to 15 years of prison.
Vlahović moved to Spain with a Bulgarian passport, where was wanted for three armed robberies in the Alicante province.
On 2 March 2010, Vlahović was arrested in Spain and later extradited on 29 August 2010 to Bosnia.
On 2 March 2010, Vlahović was arrested in Spain and later extradited on 29 August 2010 to Bosnia.
Vlahović is charged with crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 172(1)(h) in conjunction with (a)(c)(e)(g)(i)(k) and 173(1)(f) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH), all in conjunction with Article 180(1) of the CC of BiH.
On 24 February 2011, the Court of BiH confirmed charges.
At a plea hearing before Section I for War Crimes of the Court, held on 24 March 2011 Vlahović pleaded not guilty.
On 29 April 2011, the trial in this case commenced.
On 29 March 2013, following this trial, the Trial Panel of Section I for War Crimes of the Court of BiH pronounced a First Instance Verdict under which Vlahović was found guilty of crimes against humanity in violation of Article 172(1)(h) (persecution), as read with Article 29 and 180(1) of the Criminal Code of BiH (CC of BiH). He was found guilty of 60 different crimes including 35 murders and 11 rapes, as well as torture, imprisonment and looting and was therefore sentenced to a 45-year sentence in prison, the longest ever prison term handed down in Bosnia.
On 5 February 2014, Vlahović appealed the sentence. His defence lawyer argued that the facts were not properly established and that his client did not have a fair trial because seven out of 20 witnesses he proposed were refused by the judges on the counts that they were not “direct witnesses”.
On Wednesday 18 June 2014 the Appeal Chamber reduced the sentence from 45 to 42 years. Vlahović’s sentence has been reduced as the Court acquitted him from one of his 60 counts of indictment.
The same week that the Appeal Chamber reduced Vlahović’s sentence (11 June 2014), the Serbian Constitutional Court reviewed the sentences of five ex-policemen currently serving prison sentences for genocide (notably for the massacre of Srebrenica): Milenko Trifunovic (sentenced for 33 years), Brano Dzinic and Aleksandar Radovanovic (32 years), Slobodan Jakovljevic and Branislav Meden (28 years). The Court reduced the five sentences to twenty years for aiding the genocide in Srebrenica.
The first verdicts were quashed because the wrong criminal code was used at the trial. The convicted should have been sentenced under the more lenient criminal code of the former Yugoslavia, which was in force at the time that the crimes were committed and not under the harsher 2003 Bosnian criminal code.
The constitutional court made the decision after the European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that two other convicts’ rights had been violated by the incorrect use of the harsher criminal code.
A total of 16 war crimes verdicts have been quashed by the Bosnian court as a result of the ruling so far.
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 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.