Sunday 4 December 2016

UN court orders retrial of two senior Serb officials in Balkan war case

Published 15/12/2015 | 15:06

Former paramilitary leader Franko Simatovic enters the courtroom for his judgment at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands (AP)
Former paramilitary leader Franko Simatovic enters the courtroom for his judgment at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands (AP)

UN judges in The Hague have ordered a retrial for two Serbs who were acquitted in 2013 of setting up and arming paramilitary gangs that committed atrocities during the 1990s Balkan wars.

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Presiding judge Fausto Pocar overturned the acquittals of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic - former allies of the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic - and ordered both men detained pending their new trial.

Stanisic was head of Serbia's state security service until Mr Milosevic fired him in 1998 and Simatovic was his former deputy.

Prosecutors said they took part in a criminal plan to drive non-Serbs out of parts of Bosnia and Croatia.

Neither man showed any emotion as Judge Pocar ordered the new trial.

Milosevic himself died in his UN cell in 2006 before judges in his long-running trial could reach verdicts on charges that he instigated violence throughout the Balkans in the 1990s.

Judge Pocar's order comes as the UN-funded tribunal in The Hague is under pressure to complete its remaining cases and close down.

There was no immediate word on when the new trial would start.

Trial judges had originally ruled that while Serb fighters did commit atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia, there was insufficient evidence linking Stanisic and Simatovic to the crimes.

That finding was welcomed by authorities in Belgrade, who saw it as a vindication of their long-held stance that Serbia did not deliberately assist crimes by Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia.

In a majority ruling, the five-judge appeals panel said that trial judges did not adequately adjudicate on the existence of the criminal plan to drive out non-Serbs, or Stanisic and Simatovic's roles in it before acquitting them.

The appeals judges added that the pair was wrongly acquitted of aiding and abetting crimes because trial judges said they could only be guilty if their actions were "specifically directed" to assisting a crime.

Jurisprudence at the court has since stated that "specific direction" is not a necessary element of aiding and abetting a crime.

"On the basis of the identified errors, the Appeals Chamber, by majority, found that the case gave rise to appropriate circumstances for retrial," the court said in a statement.

Press Association

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