Does Montenegrin judiciary have the capacity to ensure justice for victims of war crimes?

In the eve of public announcement of the sentence in the case of “Morinj”, scheduled for 31 July before the Higher Court in Podgorica, the Centre for Civic education (CCE) reminds that the victims of this and other war crimes committed at the territory of Montenegro are still waiting for justice, though it’s been more than 20 years from their suffering.

CCE has been pointing out for number of times that the war crimes trials last unacceptably long, resulting in non-performance of the evidence that cause unsuccessful indictments and for such an effect no one has ever claimed responsibility. So far, the praxis is indicating that these processes lasting for years only served to deliberate prolongation of the cases. Therefore, it is not surprising that victims and their families are losing confidence in the Montenegrin judiciary. This is evidenced also by the March protest of the prisoners from the camp Morinj at the Montenegrin-Croatian border in Karasovici, when they described the case, running for five years in Montenegro, as farcical.

We recall that in Morinj camp, which was established by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) in the period from October 1991 until August 1992, were closed and abused more than 160 Croats, among them a large number of civilians who were brought from Dubrovnik battlefield. In late March 2007, the Croatian State Attorney’s Office (SAO) submitted to the Supreme State Prosecutor of Montenegro evidence against several persons of crimes committed in Morinj. The indictment was issued on the 15 August 2008, and the trial of six former members of the Reserve JNA Mladen Govedarica, Zlatko Tarle, Ivo Gojnic, Spiro Lucic, Ivo Menzalin and Boro Gligić started 12 of March 2010, before the Higher Court in Podgorica. On 15 May 2010, the court proclaimed all the defendants guilty and sentenced them on 16 years and 6 months imprisonment in total. In November of the same year, the Court of Appeal put the process back for a retrial and eliminated part of the judgment in which the High Court found two defendant’s responsibility (Govedarica and Tarle) in issuing an order to physically abuse prisoners. In the retrial, before the High Court, in January 2012 Govedarica and Tarle were acquitted, and a total prison sentence of four convicts was 12 years. On 6 July 2012, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of four defendants and confirmed the decision that Govedarica and Tarle are acquitted. The case was remitted for a new trial, which was continued on the 14 March 2013, and tomorrow the judgment will be released.

After many trials for war crimes, both in Montenegro and in the other countries of the former Yugoslavia, it is clear that their outcomes do not provide adequate satisfaction either to victims or to society in general. Therefore, together with partners from the region, the CCE for years is insisting on creating an additional mechanism to deal with establishing the facts about all the war crimes that occurred during the period from 1991 to 2001 – RECOM. It is necessary to work on a genuine process of facing with the past that will lead to justice for victims, because it is the only way that the heavy burden of war history that we carry for more than twenty years will not be left to the future generations.

Mirela Rebronja, Programme coordinator