Zeljko Lelek

26.04.2016 ( Last modified: 14.06.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Zeljko Lelek was born on 9 February 1962 in Goradze in south east Bosnia-Herzegovina. During the events, he held the position of police officer in the Visegrad municipality which is situated on the right bank of the river Drina in south west Bonia.

Proceedings against Zeljko Lelek came about as a result of the events which took place in 1992 in the Muslim majority municipality of Visegrad. Indeed, overall, the allegations were directed at the army, the police and Serb paramilitary formations which were reported to have deliberately attacked the Bosniak civilian population in this municipality.

More specifically, Zeljko Lelek was alleged to have committed murder, rape, and acts of torture against civilians between April and June 1992.

At the beginning of the month of May 1992, according to the indictment, Zeljko Lelek, Milan Lukic and Oliver Krsmanovic led five men to the banks of the “Drina River”. At this place they reportedly decapitated two of them, and shot dead the other three.

In addition, Lelek, together with four other individuals were said to have forced four Bosniaks into the river Drina where they then executed them.

Furthermore, it was also reported that during the month of May 1992, Lelek and other members of the police and the Serbian army illegally detained and physically and mentally abused Bosniak civilians in the Visegrad police station.

It was further alleged that Zeljko Lelek and a certain Vlatko Pecikoza drove two women to a bridge. Once there, Pecikoza is said to have thrown the baby belonging to one of the ladies, up in the air then stabbed the child to death. Lelek is then said to have executed both the ladies.

Finally, on order of Milan Lukic, Lelek and others reportedly raped on a daily basis a woman being held by them in captivity. They are also said to have tortured her physically by stubbing out cigarettes on her body, by stabbing her or by cutting her genital parts. It was also alleged that during the month of June, Lelek also abused and raped other women who were under illegal detention.

Lelek was arrested on 5 May 2006.

legal procedure

Lelek was arrested on 5 May 2006.

On 20 November 2006, the State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina confirmed the bill of indictment issued against him. Notably, it indicted Lelek for crimes against humanity for forcible transfer of populations, unlawful detention, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, murder, rape, acts of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.

On 5 December 2006, Lelek pleaded not guilty to all the charges laid against him.

The trial of Zeljko Lelek began on 2 March 2007.

On 23 May 2008, Lelek was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

On 12 January 2009 the Appellate Panel modified the First-instance Verdict and found Lelek guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 16 years of imprisonment.



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.