[JURIST] A Croatian district court in Split has convicted eight former soldiers on charges of torturing and killing Serb prisoners and Yugoslav army officers at the Lora military prison [Amnesty International backgrounder] during the Serbo-Croat war in 1991. Of the eight, four were convicted in absentia, with sentences ranging from six to eight years in prison. The former soldiers were originally acquitted by a county court in Split in 2002, but allegations of fraud and witness intimidation later surfaced.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia [official website] overturned the convictions and ordered a retrial [JURIST report] in 2004, and this trial was officially reopened [JURIST report] last September. Croatia has initiated several war crimes trials since 2001 in its push to join the European Union [JURIST news archive]. The Humanitarian Law Center [advocacy website] in Belgrade welcomed Thursday's convictions but noted:
Regardless of the significant improvement made in this retrial, we should as well underline that two very important problems were registered. The first problem was the intimidation of the Croat witnesses and their unwillingness to testify. Accordingly, two witnesses, both former members of the military police, claimed they were subjected to threats. Marko Ivcevic did not appear before the court, and another witness, Mario Barisic, who testified during the investigation and pre-trial procedure on the situation he found in the Military Investigation Centre Lora, did not challenge his previous allegations, but said he did not remember certain things. He also said that he required special protection measures from the Republic of Croatia State Prosecutor, but his request was not approved.
The second problem was the fact that certain defence counsellors behaved inappropriately almost during the whole retrial, they expressed their political views, and insulted the witnesses from Serbia and BiH. It is of concern that the Trial Chamber did not always react timely in these situations.
Read the HLC press release. AP has more.