[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday overturned [text, PDF; press release] the convictions of ex-Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic [ICTY profile, PDF; JURIST news archive] for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The appeals chamber found that the court’s trial chamber had failed to apply the law correctly when it determined that “specific direction is not an element of aiding and abetting liability.” Because the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the law, the appeals chamber rendered its decision de novo and concluded the evidence against Perisic was not convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The decision to overturn the conviction means that Perisic is once more free and that the ICTY has not convicted any Serbian official for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia.
Perisic was found guilty of 12 out of 13 charges, including aiding and abetting murders occurring during the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive], inhumane acts, attacks on civilians, unjust persecutions and having knowingly supplied “extensive logistical assistance” to the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and the Army of Serbian Krajina (SVK) that would be used to torture and kill hundreds of Muslim civilians. He was also found guilty on the basis of command responsibility for the inhumane acts of his officers and subsequently failing to punish them. In March 2011 UN prosecutors demanded that Perisic receive a life sentence [JURIST report] for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Bosnian Muslims in the early 1990s. Perisic’s trial began [JURIST report] in October 2008, and closing arguments concluded at the end of March 2011. ICTY Prosecutor Mark Harmon said Perisic was one of the “principal collaborators” of late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive], claiming in his opening statement that Perisic “created an environment of impunity, wherein his subordinates were encouraged and did persist to commit crimes, knowing there would be no consequences.” Perisic turned himself in to the UN in 2005, surrendering to officials [JURIST report] from the ICTY.