Zoran Damjanovic

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 14.08.2018 )
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Zoran Damjanovic was born on 4 September 1967 in Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a citizen of Bosnia-Herzegovina of Serbian nationality.

On 2 June 1992, Zoran Damjanovic and his brother Goran Damjanovic, both members of the Bosnian Serb Army (Army of Republika Srpska – VRS), allegedly tortured a group of about twenty to thirty male Bosniaks taken prisoners at a supermarket in the residential zone of Bojnik in Sarajevo. The victims had been captured earlier that same day by Serb military forces: some had been wounded, and others had surrendered. They were kicked and punched and beaten with firearms and clubs, in reprisal for having resisted the Serbian Army the attack on the residential zone of Ahatovici. The action was also allegedly motivated as a discriminatory retaliation against the victims because of their Bosniak nationality.

legal procedure

Zoran Damjanovic was arrested on 26 April 2006 and brought to trial before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 2 June 2006, he was charged with war crimes against civilians.

On 21 June 2006, he pleaded not guilty and was given temporary release on 22 June 2006.

On 18 June 2007, the Trial Chamber found him guilty of war crimes against civilians and sentenced him to 10 years and 6 months in prison. Damjanovic appealed the judgment.

The Appellate Panel of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, composed of two international judges and chaired by a local judge, dismissed the appeal and confirmed the sentence.

On 18 July 2013, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its verdict on the complaint filed by Zoran Damjanovic’s brother Goran. The ECtHR found that Bosnia and Herzegovina violated the criminal principle of legality provided by article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), since it had applied retroactively the 2003 Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina instead of the 1976 Criminal Code of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, this resulting in higher sentences.

Following the ECtHR judgement, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina overturned the verdicts against Goran and Zoran Damjanovic and on 4 October 2013 the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina reopened the case, suspending the prison sentences and releasing the accused.

The retrial opened on 21 November 2013. On 13 December 2013, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina reduced the sentences against both Zoran and Goran Damjanovic to 6 years and 6 months each.

Both the defendants and the Prosecutor appealed the verdict. On 18 March 2014, the Appellate Chamber of the Court confirmed the verdict.

On 6 June 2014, the Damjanovic brothers were released on parole.


The interpretation given by the European Court of Human Rights to the principle of legality in the case of Maktouf and Damjanovic resulted in a series of judgments of the Bosnian Constitutional Court overruling more than a dozen convictions for war crimes and genocide over the past years. Many of these decisions led to release pending retrial and lower sentences, and group of independent UN experts warned the Bosnian courts against the risk of convicted criminals fleeing after release, as already happened in the case of Novak Dukic.



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.